Big Sky conference requirements clarified

Jeremy Fugleberg

Jeremy Fugleberg

South Dakota State University has a football conference-the Great West. But SDSU’s other sports are still looking for a home, and the athletics department has stayed up to date on any openings for a “full-service” conference.

The Big Sky conference recently announced that, unlike last year, it is looking for expansion candidates, and the Jackrabbits are eager to join.

The conference has begun a selection process to determine who to pick. Schools said to be in the running are fellow Great West football conference teams Southern Utah, Northern Colorado and North Dakota State.

Current Big Sky Conference members are Montana State, Weber State (Utah), Eastern Washington, Idaho State, Montana, Northern Arizona, Portland State (Ore.) and California State-Sacramento.

Below are the five criteria the Big Sky will use to choose:

Academic quality

SDSU is one of 64 public intensive doctoral/research universities in the country, according to the latest Carnegie Classifications ratings. That’s right under the highest rank, extensive doctoral/research schools.

Current Big Sky members Portland State, Montana State, Montana, Idaho State and Northern Arizona are also ranked as intensive doctoral/research universities.

The other schools are less intensive: Eastern Washington and California State-Sacramento are classified as the next step down-Master’s Colleges and Universities I, while Weber State (Utah) is a Master’s Colleges and Universities II school.

Among SDSU’s potential competition for a Big Sky spot are NDSU and the University of Northern Colorado, which are also intensive doctoral/research universities. Southern Utah University is a Master’s Colleges and Universities II school.

Athletic competitiveness

The first-ever Great West Football Conference polls found the Jackrabbits at the bottom of the heap-sixth out of six teams in both the coaches and media poll. The Brookings Register called SDSU football “severely underrated,” and other stats show that the analysis might be right.

Football analysis Web site reported, “South Dakota State may make the biggest surprise splash of all.” Much credit was given to returning senior quarterback Brad Nelson, who was picked for the site’s 2004 1-AA Preseason All-American second team. Nelson was also the 2003 team most valuable player.

The Great West polls ranked Southern Utah just above SDSU, but the poll ranked Southern Utah at the very bottom of the conference. NDSU hovered around the middle in both polls, while Northern Colorado sat on the top of the pile except in the Great West media poll, where it was ranked second.

The Jackrabbits were ninth in the Director’s Cup (formerly Sears Cup) ratings, which compares all-around sports programs. NDSU was just above SDSU, at 8th place.

SDSU was ranked 18th out of 32 teams in the last NCAA Division II power National Collegiate Scouting Association rankings. The power ratings are based on the Director’s Cup, the school’s U.S.News and World Report ranking and graduation rates. Northern Colorado was ranked just behind at 28th and NDSU was 26th. Southern Utah wasn’t on the chart.

Commitment to gender equity

While the University of South Dakota cut baseball to comply with Title IX, which deals with gender fairness in sports, SDSU is adding a new women’s sport this fall. Equestrian, a riding sport, was added in part to balance additional men’s scholarships in other SDSU sports.

SDSU is the only candidate school with all of the sports the Big Sky requires. NDSU has said they would add men’s and women’s tennis to comply with the requirements.

“If they’re saying the only way to get in is that you need to offer the core sports, then we would not let that be a roadblock,” said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor in an Aug. 8 Fargo Forum story.

Northern Colorado would need to add men’s cross country and men’s and women’s indoor track and field, while Southern Utah would have to add women’s golf and men’s tennis.

“As a commissioner, you have to be adamant that everybody offer the same sports,” said Fullerton in the Aug. 8 Fargo Forum story. “It has served us so well. We have our core sports and we demand them.”

Any SDSU sports not supported by the Big Sky, such as wrestling, baseball and softball, will compete independently or set up a separate plan. SDSU has been working on forming a wrestling league with several schools including NDSU, Northern Iowa, Wyoming and Air Force.

Commitment to student-athlete success

According to released figures, seven SDSU football players achieved a straight A 4.0 GPA last year, while 23 percent of players earned dean’s list honors and 55 percent of the team earned a 3.0 or better for at least one semester.

Geography with regards to travel distance and time away from school for athletes.

Distance was the main concern when SDSU and NDSU said they were interested the last time around, and it still remains near the top of Big Sky expansion concerns.

Asked how NDSU squared up for an expansion spot in the Aug. 8 Forum story, Fullerton said, “Very well. There is one major problem and that is where they live.”

But earlier, Fullerton had stretched out the expansion arm to any team west of Minneapolis and said in an Aug. 10 Argus Leader story, “You could be the greatest school in the world. But if you’re in Miami, Florida, we wouldn’t take you.”

NDSU and SDSU would seem like a natural pair, since they’re only 190 miles apart. However, they’re many hundreds of miles away from the next closest Big Sky rival-Montana State in Bozeman.

Northern Colorado would be close to the big Denver media market, and Southern Utah would be close to Big Sky member Northern Arizona.