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Schlossman: Big Sky should look toward NDSU

GRAND FORKS - The Big Sky Conference is looking for a travel partner for UND.

It shouldn't be looking too far.

An ideal addition sits just 75 miles away -- UND's longtime rival, North Dakota State.

The Big Sky Conference denied NDSU admission about 10 years ago, but times and circumstances have changed (and, in hindsight, adding both NDSU and UND a decade ago probably would have been a good move for the league).

Adding NDSU would immediately give UND a true travel partner. It would give the conference a school that is institutionally like others in the league. It would add to the league's strength in both football and men's basketball.

It would also give the league a great rivalry with great attendance numbers. So, from the Big Sky's perspective, it makes a lot of sense.

Would NDSU do it? That may be the bigger question.

NDSU already has a home for most of its sports in the Summit League. Football participates in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

But it's doubtful that NDSU is comfortable in the Summit League right now. It's a league where nobody seems particularly content. In the last 23 years, 21 teams have jumped ship. It's a nice stopping spot, but nobody outside of Western Illinois stays.

There's no sign of it slowing down, either.

Four teams have left the league in the last three years. Several reports say Oakland University will join that group and take a spot in the Horizon League soon -- a move that Oakland has publicly wanted for a decade.

If Oakland does leave, the Summit is down to eight teams. With the remaining squads surely looking at other opportunities, it doesn't leave the league in a strong position.

NDSU's first choice is likely the Missouri Valley Conference for all sports. But the MVC has only lost one team in the last 16 years (Creighton will leave next year), and that spot has already been filled.

Choice No. 2 would likely be the Horizon. But with no Horizon school within eight hours of NDSU, the league may not want to expand that far west.

So, if the MVC and Horizon are out, it's the Summit or the Big Sky.

Are travel costs lower in the Summit? Probably. But it's not like the Summit is much of a bus league. Next year, it will cover three time zones like the Big Sky, and NDSU will fly to most destinations in the league.

Would NDSU give up a home for its baseball team? Yes. But the Summit isn't much of a home for baseball right now, anyway. If Oakland leaves, it is down to five teams -- not enough for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Summit could have addressed that situation by adding UND baseball as an affiliate -- UND was looking for a home before it went to the WAC -- but commissioner Tom Douple never invited UND. Douple was more interested in maintaining a feud with UND than looking out for the Summit schools with baseball.

We also found out last summer that NDSU President Dean Bresciani may not be particularly fond of Douple. It was revealed in emails that Bresciani was critical of the commissioner in a job review for his bizarre handling of UND's membership bid.

Douple said UND could not enter the Summit League until it dropped its Fighting Sioux nickname. Douple later told The Forum that UND officials, not the league, asked that the retirement of the nickname be a requirement for membership.

If that was the truth, the fact that a commissioner of a league would agree to jump in the middle of a controversy at a non-member school at its request is mind-boggling. Bresciani gets that and was not happy.

Are Bresciani and NDSU ready to leave the Summit for the Big Sky now? No, that is doubtful.

But if/when NDSU decides the Summit is too unstable to stay, the Big Sky should be ready to open its doors.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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