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Jeff Kolpack, Published November 02 2010

College athletics: Move ends Summit’s hope of adding UND, leaving Bison’s league dealing with the setback

Since Tom Douple assumed the job as commissioner of The Summit League five years ago, the conference has done nothing but upgrade. Monday is the first time life unexpectedly went the other way.

Southern Utah and prospective candidate University of North Dakota made it official with the Big Sky Conference. And it appears new member University of South Dakota may also join the Sioux.

With Centenary College moving to NCAA Division III next year, The Summit will emerge with eight schools. Southern Utah and Centenary were expected; UND and possibly USD were not.

“If we’re at eight, we’re at eight and we will sit down and figure out what the next move is,” said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor.

Douple released a statement saying The Summit is committed to remain strong and viable and will move forward with its membership.

He called Southern Utah a good member of the Summit “and will be a good addition and natural geographical fit for the Big Sky.”

The departure of SUU doesn’t put the league’s automatic qualifier status to the NCAA basketball tournament in jeopardy. The current NCAA standard says a conference needs a minimum of seven schools with six of them “must have conduct competition for five years” according to The Summit League office.

That, however, may be changing.

Taylor, after a consultation with Douple, said a new stipulation that requires a conference to have only seven active members for AQ status – and do away with the six members in competition for five years — is set to be introduced for committee vote in January at the annual NCAA Convention.

If it doesn’t pass, five current Summit members fit the “six members for five years” requirement: Oral Roberts, Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis, Missouri-Kansas City, Oakland University and Western Illinois. With IPFW, there will be six in 2011-12.

With NDSU and South Dakota State, the requirement moves to eight teams in 2012-13. That would mean the league could sustain one more departure after next year and still retain the AQ at its current rule.

The most likely candidate, in the rumor circles anyway, is the Southland Conference going after Oral Roberts.

“We’ve been hearing that for years,” Taylor said. “Everybody is talking about somebody going somewhere.”

Taylor said the Big Sky has not contacted NDSU in the last few years.

As for the Summit, Southern Utah’s leaving means the footprint of the league will be stamped in the middle of the country for all schools, said IPFW athletic director Tommy Bell.

Bell said his business manager gave him a rundown of the cost savings IPFW will have for not having to travel to Cedar City, Utah. It was big.

“Cost containment is always a big topic in college athletics,” Bell said.

Basketball travel partners will be adjusted with the following the likely scenario: NDSU and SDSU, IPFW and Oakland, IUPUI and Western Illinois and UMKC and Oral Roberts.

Western Illinois and IUPUI have the farthest separation at 259 miles.

“If there are eight of us, then eight of us will be fighting for one prize,” NDSU head men’s basketball coach Saul Phillips said of the Summit postseason tournament. “I think you have teams that are committed to the sport of basketball and I think probably more parity will come into play. We have a strong league.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 9-11 a.m. on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia