Story courtesy BigSkyConf.com
OGDEN, Utah -- After more than a year of anticipation, the Big Sky Conference officially grew Sunday as Southern Utah University and the University of North Dakota became full members of the league, while Cal Poly and UC Davis joined as affiliate-football members.
The additions bring the stable Big Sky Conference to 11 full institutions and 13 football members. It's been six years since the Big Sky last admitted a member. The University of Northern Colorado joined the Big Sky on July 1, 2006.
All four new institutions previously housed their football programs in the Great West Conference. Cal Poly and UC Davis will continue membership in the Big West Conference for the majority of their athletic teams. North Dakota, which becomes a full-fledged Division I member this year, competed in the Great West for most sports, while Southern Utah was affiliated with the Summit League.
The Big Sky Conference announced in September of 2010 that Cal Poly and UC Davis would join as football members. North Dakota and Southern Utah were voted in by the league presidents less than two months later.
"We're excited to begin this new era,'' said Big Sky Conference Commissioner Doug Fullerton, who began his 18th year leading the league Sunday. "I once again give credit to our presidents for sharing and believing in the vision of what the Big Sky can be. We feel very good about our future both academically and athletically.''
Southern Utah University, located in Cedar City, will celebrate its official entry in the Big Sky Conference with a reception on Monday at noon in the Sharwan Smith Center Rotunda. Cedar City is designating Monday as Big Sky day throughout the community. Fullerton and Associate Commissioner Ron Loghry will attend the celebration.
"The Big Sky and Southern Utah announced in 2010 that we would be joining the Conference on July 1, 2012, and that long-anticipated day finally arrives Sunday,'' said Southern Utah Director of Athletics Ken Beazer. "Monday, on the first business day following the first, the athletic department and the University will hold a reception to celebrate the moment as well as to say ‘thank you' to everyone who had a hand in the process.''
UC Davis and Cal Poly both have rich football traditions. Cal Poly has advanced to the Division I playoffs twice since 2005, and has enjoyed winning seasons eight of the past nine years. UC Davis was a perennial playoff team at the Division II level, and won the Great West title in 2009.
"UC Davis has been anticipating its move to the Big Sky for two years," said Interim Director of Athletics Nona Richardson, "As the football season quickly approaches, it's exciting to solidify our membership in one of the power conferences at the FCS level. Our competition in the Big Sky will bring even more recognition to UC Davis and increase the exposure of our university and its intercollegiate athletics program."
North Dakota brings a rich athletic history with it to the Big Sky. North Dakota won the 2001 Division II Football Championship, and its women's basketball program won three straight Division II titles from 1997-99.
With the additions, the Big Sky will sponsor women's softball for the first time in its history. Seven members - Idaho State, Northern Colorado, Portland State, Sacramento State, Weber State, North Dakota, and Southern Utah - will field softball teams this upcoming season. The inaugural Big Sky softball Championship will be played next May at the site of the regular-season champion. The winner will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
As a result of expansion, the league has also announced that many of its championships will expand participation. Men's and women's basketball will each feature seven-team championships, while volleyball and tennis will move from four to six-team tournaments. Golf, indoor and outdoor track and field, and cross country will continue to send all teams to the championship. Soccer will remain a four-team tournament.
The Big Sky Conference is undergoing a rebrand, and will unveil a new logo Monday, July 16, in Park City, Utah, at the Summer Football Kickoff. Later this summer, the Big Sky Conference will debut a new web site, which is being designed by Sidearm Sports in conjunction with SME Branding.
In September, Big Sky Conference football premiers on ROOT SPORTS, greatly enhancing league's exposure in the West. ROOT SPORTS, owned by DirecTV, will televise 12 conference football games starting on Sept. 22 when perennial FCS power Montana plays host to Northern Arizona. All 12 games will be televised in high definition.