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Big Sky Commish sympathizes with Montana's frustration with NCAA investigation
Big Sky Conference Commissioner Doug Fullerton commiserates with Montana football fans who are frustrated with the NCAA’s prolonged investigation into the Griz football program.
The investigation was announced in January of 2012 and came on the heels of several allegations of sexual assaults committed by members of the football team.
At the time it was said the investigation could last 12 months; it’s now at 16 months and counting.
“I’m not happy with that, but I understand why it happened,” Fullerton said Thursday in Missoula at the conclusion of the spring meeting of the league’s presidents. “We’re caught in a transition. The presidents have begun to transition the whole (NCAA) enforcement process and are rewriting it. I think we got caught right in the middle where everybody’s attention is split at the NCAA. So I understand why it’s happened, but I don’t like it because it’s hanging over everybody’s head and nobody can get an answer to it.
“I think Montana has done everything it can. I think there were some issues there that will be addressed.”
On a positive note, Fullerton said he is pleased with how the Big Sky has emerged from the uncertain times of conference realignment.
“We couldn’t be better as a league, to be able to get through this whole craziness of conference realignment, control such a wide swath of geography and not have to be an FBS league,” Fullerton said. “There may come a time when we need to look at doing something different; that time is not now.”
The “something different” Fullerton alluded to would come into play if the top five football conferences – SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, Big 12 – broke away and formed their own division.
If that came to pass, Division I football could be broken into three tiers, with the Big Sky fitting in the middle.
“One of the problems that has created the instability (in conference affiliations) is that the subdivisions as defined in Division I do not represent where the natural breaks in financing occur,” Fullerton said. “The natural breaks in financing occur right underneath the top five conferences. If you look at the media contracts they’ve written, that is only going to be exacerbated in future years.”
For instance, Fullerton said, the media money Utah will receive from the Pac-12’s new contract is more than the entire Mountain West Conference will receive.
Fullerton says he’d like to see the so-called power conferences break away.
“I would recommend a 70-team, NFL-type model with divisional champions, that way the SEC won’t dominate,” Fullerton said with a chuckle. “I’d say do it. That would add stability.
“Quite frankly, if you compare us with Conference USA, the MAC and Sun Belt, I’ll put us up against them not only athletically but academically.”
Although Fullerton said he’d like to see that new division formed, he said it needs to be under the auspices of the NCAA.
“I think the NCAA is a structure that we must have,” Fullerton said. “I have no fear that the big guys would ever leave the NCAA. They’re not going to want to run 89 championships, they’re not going to run enforcement, and yet they’ll have to have enforcement because they don’t really trust each other. Enforcement is a key issue. Having the NCAA as an over-structure is extremely important.”