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Big Sky Expansion: Southern Utah & North Dakota Expected to Join Big Sky on Monday, South Dakota Could Follow

Category: Big Sky Expansion & Realignment, Featured News

Multiple sources have reported that on Monday, the Big Sky will announce the additions of Southern Utah and North Dakota as full members. South Dakota will/has received a formal invitation as well, but it is not yet confirmed that they have accepted.

North Dakota had a scheduled campus visit set for next week for Summit League authorities. But North Dakota, not the Summit, has cancelled the planned visit (which was to be the final step before a Summit League invitation).

Finding a football home was a top priority for North Dakota. The Grand Forks Herald speculates that the lack of progress for a proposed Summit/Missouri Valley Football Conference merger is the reason for North Dakota joining the Big Sky.

Meanwhile, Southern Utah looks to have finally gotten what it’s wanted for decades: Big Sky membership. With in-state rival Weber St. to the north, and NAU in Flagstaff, AZ just a few hours south, Southern Utah will not only have a home for it’s football team, but a more travel friendly conference for it’s other sports.

Southern Utah will have a 2pm press conference on Monday to announce their Big Sky invitation acceptance.
As for South Dakota, at the time of this article, they have not made public their intentions. At the time of the North Dakota and SUU news, it is likely that South Dakota was unaware of both schools making their intentions public.
It is likely that  USD will in fact accept the invitation since they will have no other football conference membership on the table. Perhaps USD is hoping that the MVFC will receive some last minute pressure from members NDSU and SDSU to extend a lifeline to USD via a football member invitation. Baring that emergency lifeline, it appears South Dakota will be joining the Big Sky as well.
Big Sky membership will increase to 12 full members, with 14 for football as UC Davis and Cal Poly are new associate members for the sport. It is unknown at the time of this article if the Big Sky will divide into divisions, which are of less significance as FCS football conferences at this time do not hold conference championship games.
Big Sky membership will look like:
North Dakota
South Dakota
Northern Colorado
Weber St.
Southern Utah
Northern Arizona
* Cal Poly
* UC Davis
Sacramento St.
Portland St.
Idaho St.
Montana St.
* = football only
The sudden change in the Big Sky membership will have a harsh impact on the Summit League. As discussed on this week, the Summit League will have to consider expansion to replace the losses of Southern Utah and likely South Dakota. North Dakota was expected to be the replacement for Centenary which is downgrading to Division 3.
With departures by Southern Utah, South Dakota and North Dakota off the menu, the Summit League will be down to 8 total members:
North Dakota St.
South Dakota St.
Missouri-Kansas City
Oral Roberts
Western Illinois
Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne
Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis
Of those 8 schools, a few remain potential targets by other conferences. Oral Roberts could be a candidate should the Southland seek to replace the soon to be departing UTSA and Texas St. NDSU and SDSU have always had their eyes on full Missouri Valley membership. And WIU would love to take a spot in the OVC.
The Summit League options are somewhat limited. Denver is expected to move from the Sunbelt to the WAC conference. Arkansas Little Rock might eventually leave the Sunbelt, but would likely contact the Southland first due to stability problems the Summit League might be facing.
The list of Summit League expansion candidates is quite small. The only current Division 1 candidates are Chicago St., Houston Baptist, Utah Valley and Texas Pan American. Division 2 schools of interest could include Nebraska-Omaha, Bellermine, Missouri-St. Louis, to name a few.
But it appears that all the growth that the Summit League has made this decade, to rise from the bottom of the conference pecking order above the Great West, Atlantic Sun and perhaps others, will be stunted. The Great West will always be a marriage of convenience, but the Summit League had been defining itself. But if SUU, USD and UND are not part of the Summit, the future is a bit more cloudy.

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  • The Summit needs to invite all the Great West teams that are fully eligible except for NJIT. That will more than adequately fill the void for anything that has happened or will happen.


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