Is the Big Sky the perfect fit? No, but it’s the right fit

As a disclaimer, I am writing this column on Tuesday afternoon. When this gets published, who knows what will happen with the University of South Dakota's conference situation.

As of right now, USD is on the verge of joining the Big Sky Conference with just final approval needed by the Board of Regents.

The BSC just added the University of North Dakota and Southern Utah University on Monday and BSC Commissioner Doug Fullerton said USD's addition would complete the conference that would balloon to 14 teams for football and 12 teams for all sports.

But given the constantly changing – whether it's schools making actual moves or rumored one – conference landscape, who is to say the Missouri Valley Football Conference can't jump in at the last minute and extend an offer?

Plus, is the Big Sky the right conference for USD? Along with North Dakota, there would only be two Central Time Zone teams, meaning USD would have to do a lot of traveling.

Then USD would have to figure out how to pull out of the Summit League, a conference they were set to officially join next year. How much of a buyout would USD have to pay to the Summit, especially since the swimming and diving teams have been competing in it for the last two years?

The Summit also would reunite USD with former North Central Conference rivals South Dakota State and North Dakota State. How can USD pass up that opportunity?

It just seems with the travel, lost chances at rivalries and a potentially large buyout, why would USD consider jumping the Summit ship?

Because the Summit doesn't offer a sport that's the main cash cow in the college athletics pasture – football.

Cal Poly and UC Davis accepted Big Sky invites earlier in the football season, essentially forcing the Great West Football Conference to fold. In 2012, USD would face the possibility of being an independent football school.

It would be next to impossible to fill a 10-game schedule as an independent. Heck, it was tough enough to fill a full schedule as a member of the Great West. USD was able to make it work after being able to schedule two games this year and next year against Football Bowl Subdivision teams, and even though the athletic department made some pretty good coin from those games, it's certainly less than ideal to take an almost certain two losses a year.

So, USD had to find a home for its football program by 2012. The first choice would be the MVFC. SDSU and NDSU are in the conference, along with Northern Iowa, who USD has played the last three years, Illinois State, who USD plays in 2011 and 2012, and Western Illinois, which also participates in the Summit in the rest of its sports.

It seems like a perfect fit. USD would renew rivalries and join a conference that has a lot of respect. But the MVFC has made it known it has no desire to expand from nine teams at the present time.

USD could wait around for the MVFC to finally extend an offer, like the Big Ten waiting year after year for Notre Dame to finally decide it wants to join the conference, but how long would that take? One year? Five years? A decade? The football program can't wait around that long.

Now the Big Sky has come along, looking to be the first actual super conference in Division I football. They want USD to be that final piece of the puzzle. They are doing all they can to woo USD into its conference – not just football, but also all of its programs.

This would pull USD out of the football transition purgatory it's in right now and offer very solid competition. The Big Sky is arguably better than the MVFC, depending on whom you talk to.

The ability to find a home for football is more important than staying in the Summit, plain and simple, especially when the Big Sky has made just as good of a name for itself.

Paying the buyout to the Summit is just a small price to pay to find USD a suitable home not just for football, but also for all of its sports.

Plus, would it really be that hard to schedule non-conference games with SDSU or NDSU in many sports? This is a situation that can still work for everything – a competitive league to go along with renewing rivalries.

The Sky is the limit with this choice.

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