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Wayne Nelson / Forum News Service, Published July 15 2013

Big Sky commissioner likes league's position

PARK CITY, Utah – When the football season kicks off in the fall, the Big Sky Conference will turn 50 years old.

The league, says commissioner Doug Fullerton, is getting better with age.

“The Big Sky probably sits in the best place it’s ever been,” said Fullerton on Monday during the league’s annual football media kickoff.

As the college landscape has changed drastically in recent years, the Big Sky remains stable and the addition of four teams last season – the University of North Dakota, Cal Poly, UC Davis and Southern Utah – has resulted in the 13-team league becoming a major player in the West.

There are only three Division I football leagues that now exist in the West – the Big Sky, Mountain West and Pac-12.

“Quite frankly, that gives us access to student-athletes that we’ve never had access to before,” Fullerton said.

The Big Sky is one of the power conferences in the Football Championship Subdivision. The league has won six national FCS titles, the last coming in 2010. Three teams from the league qualified for last season’s playoffs.

However, Fullerton said there are concerns on the horizon regarding college football. The league, he said, will be paying close attention to what happens.

Recently, a handful of FCS powers decided to make the move to the big-time Football Bowl Subdivision – moves that could produce a domino effect within the smaller division. There is considerable risk in making such moves, Fullerton said.

According to league statistics, 19 schools moved from the FCS to the FBS from 1978 through 2010. The results haven’t been good. Among the 19 programs, the average winning percentage dropped from 55.7 percent in the FCS to 44.8 percent in the FBS.

Similarly, those teams had winning seasons 64.4 percent of the time in the FCS and 37.2 percent in the FBS.

Fullerton said teams in the top five FBS conferences have budgets that swamp the majority of FBS football-playing schools, making it difficult for the smaller programs to compete.

“Given the widening gap separating the top five conferences financially from the rest of FBS, whatever they (FCS programs moving up) are chasing is going to only become even more unattainable and more expensive in the future,” said Fullerton.

For now, the FCS remains healthy and competitive, Fullerton said.

“The top of the FCS has overtaken the bottom of the FBS,” Fullerton said.

On another matter, Fullerton said he hopes other FBS conferences do not follow the recent Big Ten decision that will prohibit its teams from playing FCS programs.

That is of significant interest to UND, which would prefer scheduling regional Big Ten teams such as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa