Highlights from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader:
SDSU waiting to hear about Big Sky's plans
Conference presidents meet today with expansion on the table and Jackrabbits on their minds
Depending on who you ask, today's meeting of Big Sky Conference presidents could be another instance of ongoing discussions about expansion or the league could be ready to pounce.
"I think this is going to be a meeting in which we are going to focus sharply and narrowly on the issues of either fishing or cutting bait," said George Dennison, the president of the University of Montana. "We'll probably be doing some fishing."
Four fish are on the hook, according to conference commissioner Doug Fullerton: South Dakota State, North Dakota State, Northern Colorado and Southern Utah.
Though SDSU will have no direct input into the meeting, it's the outcome that the Jackrabbits are interested in.
"We do know the presidents are meeting, and hopefully we can get some feedback from them on which way they're going to move in their conference," SDSU Athletic Director Fred Oien said.
Today's meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. MDT in Salt Lake City.
"Our expansion discussion is an ongoing one," Fullerton said. "The most I would see coming out of this is a request for me to do more due diligence, to find out more about some schools. That would be the best I could see. I don't think we're ready to expand tomorrow."
SDSU and NDSU approached the Big Sky in February 2003 about joining the league, when SDSU was just exploring the idea of moving to Division I. At that time, travel distance was a primary concern of the presidents, and they told the two Dakota schools to continue their conference search elsewhere.
Since then, Idaho - considered one of the Big Sky's prime targets if it happened to drop from Division I-A to I-AA in football - joined the Western Athletic Conference.
One of the main reasons the league is looking at adding members is to retain automatic berths in NCAA tournaments, especially the financially lucrative men's basketball event. Conferences must have seven members to get an automatic bid, and the Big Sky currently has eight.
"We thought it was important, or at least some people thought it was important, to let things settle out (with other conferences) before we went ahead," Dennison said. "It's always been clear we could use one to three more members to hedge against that lower limit to qualify for tournaments, basketball specifically." . . .
Their is still a possibility that the Big Sky could move from I-AA in football to I-A en masse, Fullerton said. He sees that move being the only reason for the Big Sky to think about expanding to 12 teams. At that point, the league could split into two divisions and have a conference title game to earn a top bowl bid. Teams in I-AA earn their spots in a 16-team playoff. . . .
The Big Sky presidents have maintained all along that the academic profile of both SDSU and NDSU fits the league. The added costs of travel to Brookings and Fargo have been major questions, though Fullerton admits that it's neither easy to get to Flagstaff nor inexpensive to fly to Bozeman, Mont.
"The landscape has changed, and that pushed the presidents a bit," Fullerton said. "Some people on the fence may be slipping into another column right now."
Until then, the folks in Brookings continue to do what they have for months - with both the Big Sky and the Mid-Continent Conference.
Said Oien: "We're anxiously awaiting feedback of which way they decide to go."