The Past Is the Future

The Past Is the Future

The band is getting back together. The University of North Dakota is set to announce tomorrow that they will be leaving the Big Sky Conference and joining the Summit League for the fall of 2018 and the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020.

The move to the Summit should not come as a surprise to anyone, this has been in the works for a while. The move for UND was a necessary one, especially in the wake of the school’s budget woes, when baseball and men’s golf were eliminated last spring.  (Men’s golf was reinstated thanks to private external funds) It makes sense for not just North Dakota, but the Summit League. The league now has a true I-29 corridor, stretching from Grand Forks to Omaha. Long have I written on this blog about an ideal number of teams for the league and with UND being added, this will get the conference to the desired number of 10. For the premier sport in the league, basketball, this means a return to a normal schedule where games are not spread out all over the week and games can be played on Thursdays and Saturdays.

It also will spell out true travel partners for the Summit schools:

  • North Dakota State – North Dakota
  • South Dakota State – South Dakota
  • Fort Wayne – IUPUI
  • Western Illinois – Omaha
  • Denver – Oral Roberts

That’s just an educated guess (some can laugh at the educated part). Either way, it’s better for the league to have consistent game days and to be honest, UND’s basketball teams will add credibility to the conference. The women have already won the Big Sky and reached the NCAA Tournament in 2014 and made two more postseasons since. The men’s team hosted its first postseason game a year ago and is contention in the Big Sky this year. Good teams makes for better basketball and that makes for a better league.

Now to football, which has generated the most talk in the last 18 hours. The Missouri Valley presidents will vote today on adding UND to the conference for the fall of 2020. This is a stark change for the league from just five months ago when commissioner Patty Viverito told Kolpack and I that the “league had no interest in expanding.” Obviously something has changed in that line of thinking, as this will bring the conference to eleven schools.

Some obvious questions come to mind. What happens with scheduling is first to me. Right now teams play eight conference games. I asked Chris Klieman, Brock Spack, John Stiegelmeier and Mike Sanford (when he was in the league) about the possibility of playing nine league games and a harsh no was the immediate reaction, so I don’t believe there’s any traction there. So that means that teams will miss two schools during the season. How does that get decided? Right now, NDSU has “rival” schools that they will play every year, SDSU, USD and UNI. You’d have to assume that UND will be added to that list, simply because of proximity. As unbalanced as that seems right now with how good those teams are or have been, in an age of money being tight, bus trips are the way to go even in football.

2020 is still a ways off and in the uneasiness of college athletics, it’s not a done deal to assume 11 schools will still be in the Valley by then. Indiana State we know is in a precarious financial situation, will football still be around by then? We shall see.

There is an opportunity for the Valley to take advantage of with scheduling. Make the last weekend mean something again. Granted 11 teams isn’t ideal for my proposal, but it’s a blog so bare with me. How would this look heading into the FCS Playoffs?

  • North Dakota State – North Dakota
  • South Dakota State – South Dakota
  • Illinois State – Western Illinois (played 99 times)
  • Southern Illinois – Northern Iowa (1st or 2nd in league 2003-2009)
  • Youngstown State – Indiana State

Missouri State is left out under this model, but it’s just a thought. Look at the other conferences around FCS, they save the rival game for the end of the year, that’s when it should be. Richmond-JMU, Montana-Montana State, the Valley needs to follow this model.

Yes, I know Bison fans don’t want to accept that UND is good in football. But this is a good move not just for the leagues, but for all of the Dakota schools. 2015’s football game between NDSU and UND had a great pregame atmosphere, and while the Bison won big on the Fighting Hawks, I can’t wait to see more of these games. Unleash away.

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