The expansion we told you about last night became official on Monday. The Big Sky Conference added Southern Utah and North Dakota effective in 2012, with South Dakota awaiting finalization before joining, and the league will now also sponsor softball.
Once USD officially joins, the league will become a 12-team league in all sports. With all three of the incoming schools offering softball, the Big Sky will now sponsor softball as a sanctioned sport.
?The presidents wanted to position the Big Sky Conference as a major player in football in the West,?? said Big Sky Conference Commissioner Doug Fullerton. ?But most importantly, we wanted the right kinds of schools. Our presidents have always been driven by adding institutions that fit with the schools we currently have. We?ve added two institutions that meet the criteria, and we?ve positioned ourselves to meet the visions of the presidents. We?re building a new kind of FCS conference.?
"I think this is a good move, I think this is something that will be good for all of us." Montana Athletic Director Jim O'Day said.
In football the Big Sky in effect absorbs the five team Great West Conference. In September Cal-Poly and UC-Davis joined as football affiliate members, and with the three new additions in this round of expansion the league will balloon to 14 teams. The Big Sky will split into two divisions of seven teams as a result.
"We will have to weigh in some things that we're going to have to look at as far as travel, it's going to add a little bit to our travel budgets," O'Day said. "But it will be able to solidfy more opponents for us to play."
Many wonder if these expansions are in anticipation of Montana possibly leaving for the Western Athletic Conference. The WAC has said it will issue invitations within the month. Fullerton says that was not the driving force, hoping that a more stable Big Sky would entice members to stay.
"My job is not just to stand there with my arms out and say you can't go," Fullerton said. "You can build the programs that do, what you want for an institution, without having to look to that next level all the time because that next level sometimes is kind of a place where you go to die."
O'Day says Montana will follow its own time table with the WAC.
"It really doesn't," O'Day said. "We're waiting for the final results of our report that we've got in, our survey that's just about done. We've seen a draft form we're probably going to wait until we get the final draft of that and be able to look at that. We'll sit down with a group of people on campus and others and look at it. But it doesn't necessarily mean that it changes much of what we're doing. The Big Sky's got to do what it's doing. The WAC has to do what it's doing and we have to look at what's best for the University of Montana."
You can watch the entire interview with O'Day regarding Big Sky expansion and the WAC on our website, nbcmontana.com, by going to the video viewer in KECI or KCFW sports.