University of North Dakota President Robert Kelley and Athletics Director Brian Faison announced Mon
day that the University of North Dakota has accepted an invitation to join the Big Sky Conference beginning with the 2012-13 academic year.
“We are excited to be joining the Big Sky Conference,” Kelley said. “This is the best of all possibilities for the University of North Dakota. We will be competing with some of our comparable peers in higher education – schools that look and perform like the University of North Dakota.”
“This is a tremendous day for UND athletics and the University,” Faison said. “We are excited and pleased to have a stable conference home that has a high profile and that will bring great teams to Grand Forks for our students, alumni and fans.”
UND joined Southern Utah University in accepting invitations to become core members of the Division I conference.
UND received a formal invitation from the league on Friday, Oct. 29, concluding a process that began when the presidents of the nine current Big Sky Conference universities approved expansion plans at their annual fall meetings on Oct. 20.
President Kelley formally notified Big Sky Conference Commissioner Doug Fullerton later that day that UND had accepted that invitation.
UND will officially join the Big Sky on July 1, 2012, but will begin working immediately with the current membership on scheduling, marketing, and other conference matters.
“The presidents wanted to position the Big Sky Conference as a major player in football in the west,” said Big Sky Conference Commissioner Doug Fullerton. “But most importantly, we wanted the right kinds of schools. Our presidents have always been driven by adding institutions that fit with the schools we currently have. We’ve added two institutions that meet the criteria, and we’ve positioned ourselves to meet the visions of the presidents. We’re building a new kind of FCS conference.”
UND is in its third year of a four-year transition process from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I status and currently competes in the Great West Conference. UND will be eligible for NCAA Division I postseason competition when it completes the transition process which will coincide with the school’s entrance into the Big Sky Conference.
UND will compete in all 14 conference championships offered by the Big Sky Conference, which will result in the addition of men’s tennis in 2012-13.
Monday’s additions bring the future Big Sky to 11 core members and 13 football-playing members. In September, the league announced that Cal Poly and UC Davis would join as affiliate members for football. Expansion of the league likely isn’t finished, and the conference does not anticipate losing any of its current nine core members. The Big Sky presidents’ plan calls for a 14-team football league split into two seven-team divisions.
“The moves we’ve made aren’t about protection,” Fullerton said. “If the talk out there is true that playing at the FBS level of football is unsustainable for many schools, then FCS will play an even bigger role in the future. The Big Sky presidents want the Big Sky to be the first major player coming from the FCS ranks.
“We have to change a lot of mindsets,” Fullerton added. “Every time someone from our division has sustained success, the national media believes that school has to move up to the FBS level, and that’s not the case.”
North Dakota and Southern Utah are the first core institutions to join the Big Sky since the addition of Northern Colorado on July 1, 2006.
UND has spent the first three years of its Division I transition as a member of the Great West Conference, with men’s golf competing in the America Sky Conference and men’s and women’s swimming and diving competing in the Conference USA Championship. Prior to that, UND had been a charter member of the now-defunct North Central Conference since 1922.
“I want to salute the Great West Conference and Commissioner Ed Grom for providing us with a conference home in our first years of Division I competition,” Faison said. “This allowed our student-athletes to compete for conference championships, all-conference and academic all-conference honors.”
Founded in 1883, UND has built a well-respected tradition of athletics and academic excellence. UND athletics teams have won 11 NCAA championships, including seven in Division I men’s ice hockey (second-most only to Michigan’s nine), three in Division II women’s basketball and one in Division II football, and 127 individual NCAA championships.
UND has also won 150 conference team championships in the GWC, NCC and Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA). The long history of team success has resulted in national recognition for the nearly 1,500 UND student-athletes who have garnered All-America honors.
UND established its academic reputation with 65 all-time Academic All-Americans at the Division II level, fourth all-time among DII institutions. During the first two years of Division I transition, an additional 10 student-athletes achieved Academic All-America accolades, bringing UND’s all-time total to 75.
University of North Dakota in 2009-10:
â€¢ Great West Conference regular season and playoff championships in volleyball
â€¢ Great West Conference regular season championship in women’s basketball
â€¢ Great West Conference playoff championship in softball
â€¢ Great West Conference Volleyball Coach of the Year (Ashley Hardee)
â€¢ Great West Conference Volleyball Setter of the Year (Megan Langseth)
â€¢ Great West Conference Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year (Gene Roebuck)
â€¢ Great West Conference Women’s Basketball Player of the Year (Kayla Bagaason)
â€¢ Great West Conference Women’s Basketball Sixth Woman of the Year (Alys Seay)
â€¢ Great West Conference Softball Player of the Year (Casie Hanson)
â€¢ Great West Conference Softball Rookie of the Year (Lindy Sippola)
â€¢ Great West Conference Football Rookie of the Year (Mitch Sutton)
â€¢ Great West Conference Women’s Indoor Track and Field 60-meter hurdles champion (Jessica Butler)
â€¢ Great West Conference Men’s Indoor Track and Field shot put champion (Creighton Schroyer)
â€¢ A school-record 111 student-athletes, one out of every four at UND, earned academic all-conference honors from the GWC and the WCHA
â€¢ Four student-athletes received ESPN the Magazine Academic All-America honors; nine student-athletes received academic all-district honors
â€¢ UND was home to both the GWC Male and Female Scholar-Athletes of the Year
â€¢ UND’s student-athletes combined for a 3.161 grade point average, with 13 teams boasting a 3.0 GPA or higher
â€¢ The women’s basketball team finished with the 10th-highest GPA in Division I
â€¢ Both the men’s and women’s track and field teams were named Division I Track & Field All-Academic Teams by the USTFCCCA, with the women’s team boasting the sixth-highest GPA in DI
â€¢ Eight student-athletes were named to the 2009 Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) Hampshire Honor Society
Number of UND Alumni Within 100 Miles of Big Sky Campuses:
Greeley, Colorado: 2,865 (Denver area: 3,301)
Sacramento/Davis, California: 1,578
Portland, Oregon: 1,178 (Seattle area: 2,204)
Spokane, Washington: 456
Missoula, Montana: 445
Bozeman, Montana: 365
Ogden, Utah: 362
San Luis Obispo, California: 285
Flagstaff, Arizona: 160
Pocatello, Idaho: 144
By Jayson Hajdu, UND Athletic Media Relations