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Kevin Schnepf, Published November 27 2012

Schnepf: Conference constantly look to expand these days

Fargo - Give Tom Douple credit. The Summit League commissioner was poised to take advantage of the “WAC-ky” state of college athletics.

The loss suffered by the WAC (Western Athletic Conference) was the Summit’s gain. After just one year in the WAC, the University of Denver bolted for the Summit – a move made official on Tuesday.

In this topsy-turvy world of conference realignment, the Summit secured itself a 10th member. And North Dakota State, a six-year member of the Summit, could not be happier.

“This is a great thing,” said NDSU head men’s basketball coach Saul Phillips. “In this day and age of conferences changing their look every day, if you see a school that fits, you better gobble them up.”

Get your scorecard out if you hope to keep up with all the changes in college athletics during the last three years. The realignment hardly aligns geographically when you have Maryland in the Big Ten, TCU in the Big East, West Virginia in the Big 12, and Texas A&M in the SEC.

But when there are millions of television dollars thrown in the pot, schools are willing to travel anywhere to find a conference home.

“It’s a huge poker game right now,” Phillips said. “We are in an unprecedented time. No one wants to be without a chair when the music stops playing.”

The Summit League has been dancing to musical chairs long before it became the norm. And don’t expect this tune to end anytime soon.

Since the Summit was formed in 1982 as the MidContinent Conference, 20 teams have come and gone. And as the league takes on a more Midwestern flavor, how much longer will the two Indiana schools and Oakland in suburban Detroit remain Summit League members?

With six of the 10 current members sitting west of the Mississippi, Douple may want to consider moving his Chicago office to Kansas City.

By the time he and his staff figure out the 2013-14 basketball schedule for 10 members, the Summit could be reduced to nine or eight members quicker than you can say “Oakland joins the Horizon League.”

But for the time being, the Summit sits on solid ground. It’s not like the quick sand the WAC is sinking in right now.

A once formidable conference, the WAC is dropping football next year. And with Denver leaving, it now must find another school in order to keep its automatic qualifying berth for men’s and women’s basketball.

“Denver made a lot of sense,” NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor said, referring to a big city providing the league a major market plus easy flights for the teams.

“I will take a trip to Denver over Cedar City or Shreveport any day of the week,” Phillips said, referring to former Summit members Southern Utah and Centenary.

When NDSU and South Dakota State were being considered for the Summit six years ago, school presidents took their time with the selection process. Those days are over.

At the Summit League meetings last month, Denver was mentioned briefly.

“A couple weeks later, they are in the league in very short order,” Taylor said. “Conference expansion is on Tom’s (Douple) table all the time. I can tell you that Tom is probably looking for other options right now.”

Because even the Summit could change as quickly as you can say “NDSU joins the Missouri Valley.”


Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or kschnepf@forumcomm.com