Bears spent 23 years at D-II

Updated: May 17, 2005, 10:32 PM ET
Associated Press

GREELEY, Colo. -- The presidents of the Big Sky Conference schools voted unanimously Tuesday to admit Northern Colorado to the conference as the school gears up to return to Division I competition.

The Bears will join the conference on July, 1, 2006.

"It's one of the greatest things that could happen to this athletic department and school in decades," Northern Colorado Athletics Director Jay Hinrichs said. "Moving forth with our transition to Division I, as well as our increased involvement in national intercollegiate athletics. We've got a great partner in all of the Big Sky institutions."

Presidents from the eight current conference members met in Portland, Ore., to make Northern Colorado its ninth member.

"They add a lot to the conference," Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton said. "They are within our geographical footprint and bring a market with them."

Fullerton said there were a small number of issues involved.

"We want them to be playing right at the top of I-AA football so there are some scholarship requirements," he said. "But other than that, Northern Colorado is meeting most of the issues. We wanted to firm up the eligibility for champions."

Northern Colorado will compete with 50 scholarships this fall, go to 57 next year and 63, the number required in Division I-AA in 2007-08, the Bear's first year in Division I.

Northern Colorado won't be competing for conference championships immediately. That will be determined by the sport and on some transition criteria that the NCAA imposes on an institution that moves from Division II to Division I.

"Because of that, volleyball will be competing in 2006-07," Hinrichs said. "Football and basketball in 2007-08, our first year after we've completed the transition."

After spending 23 years in the Division II North Central Conference, the Bears played in the six-team Great West Football Conference last year. The remaining 15 sports competed as independents.

"There was no decision here because it is paramount in any strategic plan to focus on a conference," Hinrichs said. "Doing what we are doing including the start of a $15 million recreation and athletic facilities as well as adding scholarships, those things come as you are increasing your scope and going to Division I."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press