After joining the Big Sky Conference in 2012, the University of North Dakota announced last week that the school will pull out of the Big Sky to join the Summit League and Missouri Valley Conference.
The Fighting Hawks will join the Missouri Valley for football in 2020 while every other sport, with the exception of men’s hockey, will link up with the Summit; joining teams such as South Dakota, South Dakota State, Western Illinois and North Dakota State.
The move will mean that North Dakota will renew its rivalry with North Dakota State as Bison reside in Missouri Valley for football and the Summit for basketball.
The Summit League sponsors neither football nor men’s hockey.
“It’s great for them,” said ISU head women’s basketball coach Seton Sobolewski. “They are going to restore their traditional rivalries.”
The Fighting Hawk’s powerhouse men’s hockey team, the only athletic program unscathed by the move, will remain in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
Geographically, North Dakota will join a conference that makes a lot more sense and will mean that ISU will no longer have to travel Grand Forks for conference games.
“Going out to North Dakota is a pain in the neck,” Sobolewski said. “It’s one our most expensive trips of the year and one of the toughest places to get to geographically.”
With the addition of Idaho in 2018, the Big Sky will have 14 teams for two seasons in football before North Dakota leaves in 2020.
Among other sports, the Big Sky will shrink to 11 teams in basketball in 2018 and downsize to seven in softball.
Following a conference call with Big Sky Commissioner Andrea Williams, Madison Guernsey of the Idaho State Journal tweeted that the Big Sky has no immediate plans to replace North Dakota and that the move was expected.
If the Big Sky did want to replace North Dakota in the future, a program that could possibly fit is the University of Denver, which is currently in the Summit League and doesn’t have a football team, meaning the Big Sky could remain at 14 football teams after 2020.
The problem there is Denver doesn’t have a softball program, meaning the Big Sky would still have seven teams in its newest sport, the smallest of the bunch.
Other possibilities could be Cal Poly or UC Davis fully joining the Big Sky.
Both schools are in the Big Sky for football only and the Big West Conference for all other sports, and have softball programs.