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UND would welcome Idaho with open arms

GRAND FORKS -- The University of Idaho plans to join the Big Sky Conference in all sports except football, pending Idaho State Board of Education approval today.

The Vandals, who had previously been competing in the Western Athletic Conference, will try to compete as a Football Bowl Subdivision independent.

The state board will hold a special meeting today to vote on Idaho's athletic future, a future the University of North Dakota athletic department would warmly welcome.

"Institutionally, we're very supportive of Idaho joining the Big Sky," UND athletic director Brian Faison said. "They fit into the geographical footprint to a 'T.'"

Idaho's inclusion would allow the Big Sky, UND's new conference home, to have an even number of teams. At 12 members for non-football sports, the league will be able to have true travel partners and potentially go to a divisional format that would cut travel costs.

"That's a big plus," Faison said.

Idaho's addition will give the Big Sky 12 all-sport members: UND, Eastern Washington, Idaho State, Montana, Montana State, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Portland State, Sacramento State, Southern Utah and Weber State.

Idaho, a charter member of the Big Sky in 1963, left the league in 1996.

But it hasn't been smooth sailing in FBS for Idaho. The WAC has suffered from a number of defections recently, trimming the league to four members and two football-playing schools.

As part of Idaho's pitch to the board, it claims the move to the Big Sky would help renew old rivalries with Montana, Montana State and Idaho State.

"Idaho has had a rich history in the Big Sky before they left and fans around the league would identify with them immediately," Faison said. "They've been great competition with us. We're very familiar with them and Rob Spear (Idaho athletic director) is an old friend of mine."

UND has played Idaho in the past few seasons in football and men's and women's basketball. In 2011, the UND football team lost 44-14 in Moscow, Idaho, while the UND women's basketball team won two of three matchups during the 2011-12 school year and the UND men's basketball team lost 63-42 on the road to the Vandals during the 2010-11 season.

If Idaho is approved as an FBS independent by the board, the school has a lot of work to do on the scheduling front.

To qualify as a FBS independent, Idaho must schedule five home games, including four against FBS schools. The Vandals have just one home game currently scheduled for 2013 -- against Northern Illinois.