Big Sky supplants Summit as UND's destinationDuring the summer of 2007, the University of North Dakota first publicly stated its wish to join the Summit League.
By: Brad Schlossman, Forum Communications Co.
GRAND FORKS — During the summer of 2007, the University of North Dakota first publicly stated its wish to join the Summit League.
The school waited for 40 months, tried to appease the league office and watched peer South Dakota get an invite in 2009 while UND was left out.
Ironically, on the day that the Summit League was finally supposed to visit UND, school leaders stood in front of a large crowd in the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center’s lobby announcing they had found a different home.
UND will join the Big Sky Conference — not the Summit League — in 2012-13. It will serve as home to nearly all of its athletic teams, including football.
Big Sky Conference presidents approved expansion plans at their annual fall meetings on Oct. 20. It took only nine days for Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton to send a formal offer to UND.
“He was very aggressive about it and we liked that,” UND athletic director Brian Faison said. “This isn’t a business where timidity and taking your time is a good thing. It can be, but not in this case.”
Choosing the Big Sky over the Summit was easy, Faison said, because the Big Sky provides a home for the football team, while the Summit does not sponsor football.
“Clearly, football is pivotal for us,” Faison said. “We had to make sure we had a stable conference home for football. Everybody knows how difficult it has been for us to schedule during the transition.”
Faison said he also was very impressed with Fullerton and his vision of the future. Fullerton said the Big Sky is launching a new initiative to become “a major player in the West.”
“I’ve been in a number of leagues and I know how important leadership is,” Faison said. “Certainly, the trust the presidents have in him says a lot. When you have the flexibility to do what he did in the period of time he did, that tells you a lot about the man and what he can do. I like his vision and what he’s trying to do.”
Fullerton said he’s friends with Summit League commissioner Tom Douple, who said in early 2009 that he would not bring UND’s possible membership to the presidents until the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo controversy was resolved.
Fullerton called Douple this fall to tell him that the Big Sky would go after UND, Southern Utah and South Dakota.
“I called Tom and said, ‘Just so you know, the landscape has changed. We’re going to be very aggressive in seeking their membership,’” Fullerton said. “After the presidents’ meeting, which took place on the 19th and 20th (of October), it became obvious my marching orders were very clear.
“Hopefully, this was done very much above the board. This is not a process that was done behind any closed doors.”
The Summit League decided to move forward with UND’s membership application on June 23rd. On Oct. 5, knowing that the Big Sky was going to pursue UND, the Summit announced it moved up a site visit to Grand Forks to Nov. 1.
UND canceled that site visit on Friday after President Robert Kelley signed on with the Big Sky.
Faison and Fullerton both said that Douple was “disappointed.”
“The presidents were already very comfortable with the institutions,” Fullerton said. “It’s not like we started the process two weeks ago. We know who those schools are. We’ve known for a long time.”
Schlossman is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.