Conference search aims for Big Sky

Justin R. Lessman

Justin R. Lessman

With a strong vote of confidence from the South Dakota Board of Regents, and a renewed passion and vision for the future, SDSU continued its quest for Division I athletics classification recently by formally initiating a search for a conference.

The BOR voted, 6-2, to approve SDSU’s application to move to DI on Dec. 12, 2002, in Rapid City.

Shortly after the vote, which gave university officials the authority to negotiate with officials from potential conferences, SDSU President Peggy Miller sent a letter to Geoff Gamble, president of the Big Sky Conference. She told him SDSU was interested in membership in and conference affiliation with Big Sky.

Miller also mentioned North Dakota State University as a possible traveling partner, if an agreement could be reached.

The Big Sky Conference, a DI-AA football-playing conference, is composed of eight schools that dot Washington, Idaho, Montana, Arizona, Oregon, California and Utah. Established in 1963, the conference is favored by both SDSU and NDSU for a number of reasons.

One reason is that the conference makes the most sense from the standpoint of geographic proximity.

SDSU Athletic Director Fred Oien said another reason is because of the type of universities that are in the conference.

“The Big Sky Conference has academically similar institutions,” he said. “They all have a long and rich history comparable to South Dakota State.”

However, membership in the Big Sky Conference will not be immediate or automatic. In fact, Oien said, SDSU may not even be wanted.

“We have not been invited,” he said. “This just means that should the Big Sky Conference decide to expand, we would be very interested in joining. We would deal with a move at that time.”

Publicly, Big Sky Conference officials have repeatedly said that they are not interested in new members at this time.

However, a Big Sky Conference spokesperson said recently that the conference’s current position is not necessarily set in stone.

“At this time, the Big Sky Conference is not looking to add an additional member,” the spokesperson said. “However, the world of collegiate athletics is always changing, more so out in the west, and so Conference leaders never say never.”

Oien said that Gamble has scheduled a meeting of Big Sky members for the first week of February in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I could only assume that the request would be discussed then,” Oien said.

Oien also said that if Big Sky did decide to expand and include SDSU in its conference membership, it would do so under a process that its members determine.

“We just handle one potential conference at a time,” Oien said. “Timing is of the essence.”