SDSU athletic teams shoot for Big Sky Conference

Jeremy Fugleberg

Jeremy Fugleberg

SDSU athletics might be westward bound in a year. The Big Sky Conference, with teams dotting the western U.S., is looking to expand, and SDSU is in the running for a spot.

“It’s really good stuff,” said Fred Oien, SDSU’s athletic director in an Aug. 10 Sioux Falls Argus Leader story. “We’ve always said they’re a very good conference. We’d be proud to be a member of that conference, should it all work out.”

Big Sky has said it is looking to grow from eight teams to a possible 11. The other teams trying to get in are fellow Great West Football Conference members Southern Utah, University of Northern Colorado and North Dakota State.

The expansion offer is a reversal from the Big Sky’s position last year. When SDSU and NDSU expressed interest in joining, the conference told the schools to look elsewhere, citing distance concerns.

But the tune is different now, due to a decision by the University of Idaho-a former Big Sky member-to join the Division I-A Western Area Conference instead of returning to its former athletic home.

The overarching concern for the Big Sky is the number of teams: NCAA rules require conferences to have seven or more teams to qualify for big dollars. If a team dropped out of the conference, the Big Sky would be seriously hobbled financially.

“Can you look five or 10 years down the road and think that maybe holding together eight is a challenge? People move on,” said Big Sky Commissioner Doug Fullerton.

The timeline

Fullerton said he expects interested schools to submit official letters of interest by Oct. 1.

The Big Sky’s presidents will review the letters and questionnaires sent to the school at their meeting in November. According to an Aug. 10 Argus Leader story, Fullerton says officials from applicant schools might be asked to attend and make a pitch for acceptance.

If all goes well at the meeting, a Big Sky committee will tour SDSU in early 2005. The committee will include Fullerton, a Big Sky president, an athletic director and a faculty athletic representative.

A final decision on expansion is expected by April 2005.

In an Aug. 10 Argus Leader story, Fullerton said the conference is leaving all its options open.

“If we have an opportunity to get one institution that matches up to the criteria, we’ll take one,” he said. “If it’s none, it’s none. If it’s three, it’s there.”

How SDSU stacks up

The Big Sky has said they will examine candidate schools for academic quality, athletic competitiveness, commitment to gender equity, commitment to student-athlete success, geography with regards to travel distance and time away from school for athletes.

SDSU offers all the sports required by the Big Sky for membership, and anticipation for this year’s Jackrabbit football team is high. Several college football experts, including analysts at, say SDSU, led by quarterback Brad Nelson, might be a big surprise in Division I-AA.

While the University of South Dakota dropped baseball due to lack of funding and Title IX compliance, SDSU started a new women’s sport-equestrian. Title IX deals with gender equity in sports opportunities.

Distance is still a concern, said Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton in an Aug. 8 Argus Leader story.

“What’s hard travel for one school in our conference might not be for another,” Fullerton said. “That’s a discussion that needs to take place. That could be a trump card.”