Kriens sheds light on conference shakeups

Travis Kriens

Travis KriensConference Guru

Remember this past summer when it seemed like every team at the Bowl Championship Series level was going to change conferences, but only a handful of teams ended up moving? If not, here is a quick refresher course.

It all got started with Nebraska going from the Big 12 to the Big 10. Along with this, Texas was rumored to go from the Big 12 to the PAC 10, which would have been the domino to crumble the Big 12. Colorado (from the Big 12) saw this and saved their butts by going to the PAC 10. Texas decides to stay, while the PAC 10 picks up another team in Utah from the Mountain West Conference. Take a minute, read that again if you have to and digest it.

Utah leaving the MWC leaves an opening there, which is filled by Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada from the Western Athletic Conference (WAC).

This leaves holes in the WAC, which is looking at a number of schools, the most important of which is the University of Montana.

The Grizzlies are an FCS member of the Big Sky conference. A move to the WAC would not only mean a change in conference, but also moving up to the FBS level. This could potentially leave the Big Sky with a hole to fill. They already have Cal Poly and UC-Davis coming in for football. They are trying to expand even more with Southern Utah, North Dakota and South Dakota. This has a huge impact on SDSU and the Summit League.

Southern Utah announced their decision to join the Big Sky on Monday, which is something that the Summit League has been looking forward to for a while. With Centenary leaving the Summit for the Division III ranks and Southern Utah now gone, it leaves the league with two holes to fill.

One was filled by USD, which joins the league during the 2011-12 season. The other logical school was North Dakota. With the possibility of four Dakota schools and four former NCC rivals, it would give the Summit League a solid core to build around for years to come as they try to build their brand. But a monkey wrench was thrown into this thing that will have an impact on college athletics in the region for years to come.

North Dakota seemed to be a shoe-in to the Summit League. The only thing holding the league back was UND’s nickname situation of the Fighting Sioux, which will be resolved in the coming months. With the nickname now a non-issue, the conference was scheduled to visit Grand Forks early this week. That visit was cancelled last Friday. This basically means UND will accept the Big Sky invitation. This leaves USD with a decision to make. Stay in line with the Summit League and start competition next season, or head to the Big Sky which guarantees something that the Summit cannot; a conference for their football team?

The Coyotes now have to decide whether it is worth the money, time and travel to jump to the Big Sky and leave the Summit League with only eight teams.

For USD, it makes no sense to go to the Big Sky besides having a conference for football. Every other issue favors USD to the Summit League.

Location: The closest Big Sky school to Vermillion is Northern Colorado, only a nice nine-plus hour bus ride away. In the Summit, bus trips to Brookings, Fargo and possibly Kansas City would save money.

Attendance and rivalries: Think anyone cares about playing Sacramento State, Northern Arizona or Portland State compared to match-ups with the Jacks or NDSU? All I have heard about for the past five years through the Division I transition for both SDSU and USD is when are they going to play each other again in basketball and football. If USD still goes to the Summit League, they will get to compete against the Jacks in men’s and women’s basketball at least twice a year and a football game is not far away.

Money: They also have to consider that they paid $300,000 to join the Summit League and it would cost them $500,000 in order to leave a conference they were never officially a part of on the field of play. A costly mistake for a school in transition and a hurting athletic budget. Not to mention the increased cost of traveling out west, loss in ticket sales in not playing SDSU every year compared to a Sacramento State and media exposure of about half their games ending on the west coast long after the deadline for the newspaper has passed.

Also, from a conference standpoint, you would basically be replacing Southern Utah and Centenary with UND and USD. Two schools that brought literally dozens of fans to the Summit League basketball tournament in Sioux Falls vs. two schools that would bring thousands to the Arena to improve on back-to-back years of record setting attendance and sponsorship money.

From the SDSU perspective, you should want USD in the Summit and it’s already a blow to the conference that UND backed out.

Rivalries are what make sports special and SDSU vs. USD is the best that South Dakota has to offer. Last season’s women’s basketball game between the two rival schools brought 5,246 people to Frost Arena, a record for a regular season women’s-only game. You would expect that first game at Frost between the men’s teams to draw even more.

A strong Summit League means a strong SDSU and right now the Summit is looking more like a trench.

#1.1655801:2599443231.jpg:Travis Kriens: Sports Genius:Travis Kriens: Sports Genius:File Photo