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UND travel expenses could be less with move to the Summit League

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- If a majority of the University of North Dakota's athletic programs made a move from the Big Sky Conference to the Summit League and the Missouri Valley Football Conference, there would be savings on travel costs but perhaps ...

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - If a majority of the University of North Dakota's athletic programs made a move from the Big Sky Conference to the Summit League and the Missouri Valley Football Conference, there would be savings on travel costs but perhaps not as much as some believe, according to NCAA athletic department finance numbers obtained by the Herald.

The Herald reported last Saturday that UND athletic director Brian Faison was in negotiations with the Summit and MVFC, according to text-message exchanges with league commissioners.

One of the reasons for revisiting conference membership is the potential to save money on travel. UND is isolated geographically in the Big Sky. The closest league member is Montana State in Bozeman, 800 miles away. The Big Sky also stretches into California and Oregon. The UND football program has played a game in four time zones this season.

The Summit, meanwhile, houses North Dakota State, the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State, among others.

The Summit's geographic footprint is much tighter than the Big Sky's.

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That doesn't necessarily promise major travel savings. In some areas, UND already is spending less money on travel than its Summit League counterparts, according to NCAA documents from the 2015 fiscal season.

In men's golf and women's golf, for example, UND spends less than USD, NDSU and SDSU.

In some sports, the numbers show a wide range in travel costs regardless of league. In volleyball, UND is spending $154,410 on travel. North Dakota State, meanwhile, playing in a more geographically friendly league, is spending $258,982. USD spends $77,130 and SDSU spends $97,369.

In many cases, travel costs reflect what each university elects to emphasize. Travel costs can be impacted by mode of transportation, non-conference scheduling and lodging accommodations.

North Dakota State softball, a winner of three-straight Summit League championships, spends $187,489 on travel, while UND spends $139,792 on softball travel. South Dakota State spends just $84,333 and South Dakota spends $103,569.

In men's basketball, South Dakota State is the Dakota leader in travel costs at $386,231. UND is spending less at $311,837, although UND is spending more than South Dakota at $215,254 and more than NDSU at $269,649.

Some travel cost savings associated with a Big Sky to Summit move are negated by non-conference scheduling.

In women's soccer, UND played six Summit League opponents in non-conference play during the 2016 season.

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Those non-conference opponents allowed UND to save on travel with nearby destinations. If UND was to move into the Summit, those non-conference matchups would need to be replaced by less travel-friendly games.

That's part of the reason UND's travel costs for soccer already closely resemble those of Dakota peers. UND spends $100,437 on soccer travel compared to SDSU ($100,237), NDSU ($143,158) and USD ($74,892).

Neither UND officials nor the Summit League administration have publicly commented on any move, although Western Illinois athletic director Matt Tanney, a leader of a Summit athletic department, discussed the positives of UND's potential move to the Summit League on WDAY radio with Mike McFeely in late October.

Tanney said UND fit geographically and could pair as a travel partner with NDSU. The Summit League is currently at nine full members.

"Going to 10 would be big, because we could go to a travel partner setup," Tanney said. "If North Dakota were in that mix, you could go to Fargo and the University of North Dakota on the same weekend. Ten would be great. It would create some symmetry and help with travel costs."

Around the country, conference affiliation is usually hinged to football. The Summit League doesn't sponsor football, so UND would either need to ask the Big Sky to be a football-only affiliate (as is the case with Cal Poly and UC Davis), or the Missouri Valley Football Conference would need to accept UND. The MVFC is the football home for NDSU, SDSU and USD.

Because of football's large travel rosters, upwards of 60 players, the potential of saving on travel exists. Football teams typically need to charter flights to road games that can't be reached by bus, which has been the case for UND for every road game since joining the Big Sky in 2012, other than North Dakota State in 2015.

NCAA financial filings show the ability for savings in football as UND spent $548,923 on football travel compared with SDSU ($487,003) and USD ($386,015). NDSU, which has won five straight FCS national titles, spent $800,676.

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA FIGHTING HAWKS
Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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