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UND remains on Big Sky's radar

GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota may know within a couple of months whether Sioux athletics will find a long-term home in the Big Sky Conference.

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GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota may know within a couple of months whether Sioux athletics will find a long-term home in the Big Sky Conference.

Big Sky athletic directors and administrators will meet next week with league commissioner Doug Fullerton to discuss the future of the conference, which stretches from Montana to California.

The information from that session will be forwarded to a meeting of Big Sky school presidents on Oct. 19, a meeting that could go a long way in determining whether UND finds a suitable Division I home for its athletic programs.

The Big Sky is taking a proactive approach to the possibility of losing members to the Western Athletic Conference. The WAC is meeting this week in Dallas and Montana -- a prominent Big Sky member -- is expected to receive an invitation to join the Football Bowl Subdivision league.

Montana's athletic director, Jim O'Day, was at the WAC meeting, although he told The Missoulian newspaper no offer had been extended. And it's not certain Montana will accept an invitation from the WAC.

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A Montana exit, however, could further help UND membership in the Big Sky.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson indicated Wednesday that Montana is high on the league's list for membership.

"I would say that as the WAC goes forward with its plan for future membership, the University of Montana is high on our list," Benson told the Missoula, Mont., newspaper. "And the assets that Montana could bring to the WAC are very significant, from the academic profile to the success they've had in football and men's and women's basketball would lend itself to the WAC very well."

Since moving to Division I, finding stable conference affiliation for all Sioux athletic teams has been a priority for UND.

The Big Sky currently is a nine-school league. But the league recently added Cal Poly and UC Davis as football members only. Fullerton said last month that the Big Sky would like to have a two-division, 12-team football league -- leading to speculation that UND could fill that role in addition to competing to all other sports sponsored by the conference.

On Wednesday, Fullerton said not much has changed regarding UND's possible membership. UND is still on the Big Sky radar.

"There is a lot of support for UND," Fullerton said.

The information gathered from next week's meeting with league athletic officials, Fullerton said, will help him "set the table" for the upcoming presidents' meeting.

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UND isn't the only school under consideration for possible Big Sky membership. Southern Utah also is under consideration. And Fullerton said South Dakota has been discussed as well.

The Big Sky, however, isn't the only league possibility for UND.

UND has applied for membership for the Summit League. League officials are expected to visit UND sometime in late November or early December.

But the Summit does not offer football. That is a concern for UND as finding a long-term home for Sioux football is one of the athletic department's top priorities.

There is a possibility of a Summit-Missouri Valley Football Conference merger, a move that would reunite UND with North Dakota State and South Dakota State. But there appears to be no timetable on when a possible merger would take place.

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