Bears spent 23 years at D-II

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

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

"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