Is the Big Sky open to SDSU?

Justin R. Lessman

Justin R. Lessman

While last week’s Big Sky Conference meeting did not yield the most positive feedback for SDSU, university officials say it is not over between them and the conference to the west.

“This is not a huge setback,” Dan Hansen, Student Association president, said. “I understand conference officials are still planning on-site visits and meetings between university presidents.”

Fred Oien, SDSU athletic director, said he is not jumping to any hasty conclusions about the future of SDSU and the Big Sky until he speaks with conference officials later this week.

“I have not talked directly to any conference officials yet,” he said. “I have only seen the news release. I will try to speak with them this week and get more clarification on the issue at that time.”

Big Sky Conference leaders met Thursday in Salt Lake City to discuss the future of the league.

Geoffrey Gamble, meeting chair and president of Montana State University, said he called the meeting in response to talk of expansion and inquiries by SDSU and North Dakota State University for inclusion in the conference.

Big Sky is the first conference the two schools have approached with regard to athletic affiliation.

At the meeting, Big Sky officials indicated that expansion was an issue of interest. However, questions were raised as to whether SDSU and NDSU could be the vehicles of that expansion.

“There is an interest by Big Sky Conference members in expansion and we are going to take some time to look at our options,” Gamble said. “But, we do not anticipate expansion into the Dakotas at this time.”

The Big Sky Conference includes eight institutions that dot seven western states including Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

“Big Sky leaders were worried about travel concerns and geographical location issues,” Hansen said. “I guess it was something we kind of expected.”

Hansen said some of the concern may stem from the financial situation of a few schools now in the Big Sky conference, especially those farthest away from the Dakotas.

“Some of those schools are struggling financially and the added travel expense required to get here for athletic competition may not be possible for them to handle at this time,” he said.

Oien said after he speaks with conference officials, he would have a better idea of what the next steps are to be.

Currently, athletic department officials are working to create a Division I transition team and strategy plan.

“We have consultants back here on campus who are working hard to get the transition team in place,” Oien said. “We hope to have things going full-force in mid-March.”

The goal of the transition team is to have a conference in place by Sept. 1. On that day, SDSU must notify the North Central Conference of its plans for the 2004-05 year. In addition, on Dec. 1, SDSU must submit a formal letter of intent to the NCAA applying for DI reclassification.

Oien has said from the start that having a conference in place is essential before any move from Division II would take place.

Meanwhile, Hansen and the rest of the Student Association remain cautiously optimistic about Big Sky and completely satisfied with the decision for SDSU to move to DI.

“If the reason the Big Sky was concerned was because of the school itself, that would have been a setback,” he said. “But they were just traveling concerns. Conference leaders said that the Dakota schools were great candidates for Division I. That proves that the decision to go DI was correct.”