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Great West nears end as schools shift plans
The end is near for the Great West Football Conference, which learned Tuesday that next season will be the last in the league for two of its five members.
UC Davis and Cal Poly, charter members of the seven-year-old FCS conference, announced they were leaving the Great West to join the Big Sky Conference starting with the 2012 season.
That exodus means that the University of South Dakota, North Dakota and Southern Utah will have to find new homes for their football programs or play independent schedules after next season.
“It’s concerning,” USD athletic director David Sayler said. “The positive part is that I’m hearing a lot of people in other leagues say good things about the Coyotes and where we’re headed. I know we’re going to find a home - it’s just a matter of solidifying it.”
On the day of his announced hiring more than a month ago, Sayler said one of his biggest priorities was securing a stable conference for the Coyote football program.
So while Tuesday’s news didn’t change the AD’s assignment, it did heighten the urgency.
USD has two obvious potential options. Preferred by most would be eventually joining NDSU, SDSU and UND in either the Missouri Valley Football Conference or something resembling a football version of the Summit League.
Missouri Valley commissioner Patty Viverito acknowledged in August that her league is discussing possible membership models that could involve mergers or realignments with Summit League schools.
A second possible option would be following Cal Poly and UC-Davis to the Big Sky, which has several of its present nine members discussing jumps to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“The Big Sky, the Summit and the MVC are aware that we want to solidify our situation with football,” Sayler said. “USD is definitely in the mix with those discussions. What we have to work on now is making sure something happens within the time frame that we want it to happen.”
Big Sky officials said Tuesday that the league will split into two divisions for football and that they planned on bringing in another member to make it a 12-team league.
However, both Montana schools, as well as Portland State and Sacramento State, may be courted as candidates to join the depleted FBS Western Athletic Conference, which saw Fresno State, Nevada and Boise State all announce their departures this summer.
“We’re going to look at all options,” Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton told the Portland (Ore.) Tribune on Tuesday.
“The landscape of college athletics has shifted even more this summer, and with the great diversity of funding and budgets at the Football Bowl Subdivison level, the role of the FCS may become even greater in the coming years.”
By Mick Garry, The Argus Leader