Gateway Conference eyes the Dakotas for expansion

Updated: October 26, 2006, 7:01 PM ET
Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- The Gateway Football Conference has requested information from South Dakota State University and North Dakota State University in preparation for possible expansion, said Patty Viverito, the league's commissioner.

Conference member Western Kentucky is considering a move to NCAA Division I-A football, which would leave the Gateway Football Conference with seven members. Western Kentucky's board of regents will vote Nov. 2 on the Division I-A matter.

"We've had conversations with both North Dakota State and South Dakota State before," Viverito said. "But it didn't really make sense to have any meaningful conversations about Gateway football unless they had a foundation home for their other sports. The planets aligned."

NDSU and SDSU are in the third year of a five-year transition process from Division II to Division I. In September, they were accepted into the Mid-Continent Conference in sports except football. The Mid-Continent does not sponsor football.

A drawing card for SDSU and NDSU is that the Gateway champion receives an automatic bid into the I-AA football playoffs.

"Certainly any established conference that has an automatic qualifier is very important to any sport program," said SDSU athletic director Fred Oien, who confirmed that the Gateway has officially inquired about the school.

Other current members of the Gateway Football Conference are Illinois State, Indiana State, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, Western Illinois and Youngstown State.

SDSU and NDSU -- which join Cal Poly, UC-Davis and Southern Utah in the Great West Football Conference -- will submit information to the Gateway Conference regarding missions, academics, compliance and the football program.

Viverito said there isn't a timeline for action, and the next Gateway presidents meeting is scheduled for June.

"But chances are we'll need to move more quickly than that," she said. "We see ourselves as having a mutual window of opportunity here."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press