There are currently 13 football teams in the Big Sky Conference, and with the addition of the University of Idaho’s coming in 2018 the conference will be pushed to 14.
The next closest conference in the FCS to the Big Sky in terms of numbers of teams is the Southland Conference with eleven teams.
Simply put, that is way too many teams to have all in one conference.
With an eleven game schedule, ISU has gone years without playing some teams within the conference and with the number of teams this conference has, it is difficult to devolve any sort of rivalry with teams throughout the conference.
The solution: split the conference into two separate divisions of seven team and implement a conference championship game.
ISU plays Weber State every year, but that “rivalry,” doesn’t have any meaning because the two teams have not played any games that mean anything. If Weber State is third in the conference and ISU is fifth, neither team has a shot at winning anything.
The game is meaningless.
But if the Big Sky were to split and implement a conference championship, games that previously held little or no meaning would suddenly have a lot riding on them.
Say, for example, that the Big Sky does not split and a conference championship game does not exist.
Let’s say that two years from now, ISU and Weber are 5-2 in conference play going into the last week of the season with the winner taking over third place and the loser falling to, I don’t know, let’s go with sixth.
With a 14-team conference, neither team has any shot winning the conference if the first place team is unbeaten. But, if the conference is split and the unbeaten team is in the other division, then ISU would all of a sudden have a chance to win the conference.
So, now let’s say that the Big Sky has split and there is a conference championship game.
Perhaps Montana and Montana State are playing the same week that ISU plays Weber. Let’s say that Montana holds a 6-1 record and Montana State holding a 4-3 record and all four teams are in the same division.
Now, let’s also say that ISU beat Montana earlier in the season, giving the Bengals a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Griz.
In this scenario Northern Arizona is 7-0 going into the last week of the season.
They would be in the other hypothetical division and have already clinched a spot in the championship.
What would all of this mean?
It means in that last week of the season ISU would need to beat Weber and Montana State would have to beat Montana in order for ISU to hold the rights to go to the Big Sky Championship to play Northern Arizona.
Without the two separate divisions, Northern Arizona would have already clinched the conference title and the ISU-Weber game is meaningless.
With the two divisions, ISU would still have a shot at winning the conference, the Weber game would have a lot riding on it and ISU fans would get to partake in the always-thrilling event of scoreboard watching to see if Montana loses.
Now, instead of zero games meaning something to ISU fans, two games would hold meaning.
We know from 2014, that 8-4 is not good enough to get into the FCS playoffs, so if the Big Sky were to split into divisions, ISU would still have a shot at the playoffs.
Without it, the ISU-Weber game and the Montana-Montana State game hold no meaning and the Bengals are watching the playoffs from home.
Sports is an entertainment business, so why not make it more entertaining?