NDSU's odds increase for Big Sky

North Dakota State is on the verge of making another run at membership in the Big Sky Conference. This time, the league may take NDSU more seriously.


North Dakota State is on the verge of making another run at membership in the Big Sky Conference. This time, the league may take NDSU more seriously.

An Aug. 9 meeting of the Big Sky Council of Presidents in Salt Lake City will be the second time in 18 months the group will hold a special session to discuss expansion.

A 2003 meeting in Salt Lake City was assembled at the request of Montana State president Geoffrey Gamble. This summit appears to have a more widespread appeal.

"I don't think there's any one reason or one person," said Dusty Clements, Big Sky assistant commissioner. "But things have finally shaken out west. The dominos have fallen and I think we all want to get on the same page."

The University of Idaho, a former Big Sky member, announced last month that it is bolting the Division I-A Sun Belt Conference for the I-A Western Athletic Conference.


Idaho was said to be a candidate to return to the I-AA Big Sky because of new Division I-A football attendance requirements. But those standards are being re-evaluated within the NCAA and may not come to fruition.

"My feeling all along was that if Idaho got into the WAC, that would push (the Big Sky) to figure something else out," said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor.

"If the Big Sky were able to get Idaho, I think they would have grabbed them and called it quits for a while."

NDSU's momentum was spurred by comments made by Big Sky Commissioner Doug Fullerton at the league's annual meeting in Park City, Utah, earlier this week.

He said the league is conducting an internal evaluation of available schools that includes NDSU, South Dakota State, Southern Utah and Northern Colorado.

"I was literally taken aback by the strength of what he said," Taylor said.

Fullerton was on vacation Thursday and unavailable for comment.

But Clements indicated the league presidents will probably want basic institutional information like enrollment and travel distance.


NDSU spokesman Dave Wahlberg said the university would welcome the chance to make a presentation to the Big Sky. It's doubtful that would happen at the Aug. 9 meeting.

"We think we have a lot to offer as a university to any athletic conference out there," Wahlberg said. "The athletic director and the president have talked about this new development and if there is a call to us to present our case, we would be delighted to do so."

Taylor said he and school President Joseph Chapman will get together "and see what game plan to come up with between now and Aug. 9."

Clements said a special expansion meeting is necessary because there isn't enough time to address those issues at annual meetings.

The 2003 gathering did not result in any action. NDSU and SDSU were told the league had no interest in expanding east at the present time.

At eight teams, the Big Sky is on the lower end in Division I in terms of the number of members. Division I conferences require at least seven members in order to receive NCAA dispersal money.

Fullerton said earlier this week the Big Sky would not want to go to a 12-team, two-division league.

Meanwhile, NDSU begins play in the Great West Football Conference this fall. It will be independent in all other sports, but that could change if the Big Sky calls. If that happens, NDSU would have to drop its affiliation with the Great West, which is a football-only league.


"We'll try to get advice from some folks we've made contact with in the Big Sky in the last two years," Taylor said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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