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Southern Utah eyes shifting Big Sky Conference
So, where does Southern Utah University go from here?
On Tuesday, the Thunderbirds were left without a viable football league when it was announced that UC Davis and Cal Poly will take their programs to the Big Sky Conference.
Montana athletic director Jim O’Day praised the Big Sky’s decision to add UC Davis and Cal Poly as football-playing members.
“You bring two great academic institutions who do things the right way who are great fits for the league,” he said.
The Big Sky’s expansion leaves the Great West Conference with only three football schools: Southern Utah, South Dakota and North Dakota.
“The Great West will continue on as an all-sports league,” Southern Utah athletic director Ken Beazer predicted Wednesday. “But as far as football, it will be pretty difficult to put the pieces back in place and continue.”
As it stands, the Big Sky Conference will become an 11-team football league.
According to commissioner Doug Fullerton, the ultimate goal is adding another school so the conference will be comprised of two six-team divisions.
“We want schools that are institutional fits with our other schools,” he said.
If so, Southern Utah is a logical candidate.
“Undoubtedly there is a great deal of interest in the Big Sky from our institution,” Beazer said.
“… Southern Utah makes a great deal of sense for the Big Sky, as far as the geography and the footprint of the conference is concerned. Athletically and academically, we’re a good fit.”
The Thunderbirds, however, would not be the only school expected to be interested in joining one of the top Football Championship Subdivision football conferences in the country.
Officials from the other two remaining Great West Conference schools — North Dakota and South Dakota — will likely inquire about the Big Sky’s interest in them, if they haven’t done so already.
Said O’Day: “I think any of those Great West schools would be ones that would be considered just because of their proximity.” Another possibility: North Dakota State, which advertised itself nicely last weekend when its football team went against Big 12 member Kansas and defeated the heavily-favored Jayhawks, 6-3
On the other hand, the Big Sky could be positioning itself in the event that two or more current members are lured away by the recently-decimated Western Athletic Conference.
Fullerton says one of the most important aspects to a commissioner’s job these days is “… the ability to reconstitute a conference.” The WAC will be down to six teams when Fresno State and Nevada leave for the Mountain West Conference, and commissioner Karl Benson has been successful in the past by recruiting schools from smaller conferences and watching them grow in stature.
Think Boise State.
If the WAC raids the Big Sky for a couple of its current teams, perhaps Montana and/or Montana State. Also, big-market schools Portland State and Sacramento State, have been mentioned as possible targets.
If any of those schools leave the Big Sky in the future, more openings become available for Southern Utah.
Should the WAC decide to expand but leave those schools alone and look elsewhere, however, Texas State and Texas San-Antonio are possibilities.
That would translate into fewer openings for the Big Sky hopefuls like SUU and increased competition for a coveted invitation to the league
Reporter Bill Oram contributed to this story.
By Steve Luhm, The Salt Lake Tribune