Big Sky Conference expands

Updated: November 1, 2010, 7:27 PM ET
Associated Press

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The University of North Dakota and Southern Utah are joining the Big Sky Conference.

The two schools will begin league play for the 2012-13 season.

The announcement of league expansion came as a surprise at UND, which last week canceled a visit that had been planned to the campus by Summit League officials. The school is in its third year of its transition from NCAA Division II to Division I athletics.

"We don't know what goes on behind the scenes, but whatever you guys did you don't have to tell anybody," North Dakota women's basketball coach Gene Roebuck said, smiling at athletic director Brian Faison and school president Robert Kelley.

Said Southern Utah president Michael Benson: "Today marks the culmination of many years of effort on the part of countless people committed to Southern Utah University and its future.

Faison said the move should not only help with scheduling and recruiting, it will provide a revenue sharing bonus of about $135,000 per athletic team.

"The Big Sky has an incredible business model and there will clearly be a financial benefit for our program," Faison said.

The league also said it's "on the verge" of announcing the addition of the University of South Dakota. That will give the league 12 core members, with 14 football members. Cal Poly and UC Davis are joining as football-only schools.

"The Big Sky has long been a powerful football league," North Dakota football coach Chris Mussman said.

The conference has won five national championships.

Doug Fullerton, Big Sky commissioner, said school presidents want to position the league as a major player in the west in the Football Championship Subdivision.

"We have to change a lot of mindsets," Fullerton said. "Every time someone from our division has sustained success, the national media believes that school has to move up to the FBS level, and that's not the case."

UND, Southern Utah, USD Cal Poly and UC Davis currently compete in the Great West Conference for football.

The Summit League does not offer football, which was an issue for players and coaches as the school shopped for a conference.

"It has been tough being in limbo," said Joel Schwenzfeier, UND's senior defensive back. "I'm kind of jealous of the younger guys, who will be the benefit of this, but of course I'm really happy for them. It gives the program some direction."

Other Big Sky members are Eastern Washington, Idaho State, Montana, Montana State, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Portland State, Sacramento State and Weber State.

South Dakota athletic director David Sayler said Monday the school was still looking at its options.

"So we're just kind of working through our issues," Sayler said.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press