The rivalry between North Dakota State and University of North Dakota just got more interesting. UND will officially join the Summit League Conference in 2018-2019 for all sports other than football. The Summit League does not sponsor football, therefore, UND will officially switch to the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020. All four football-playing members of the Summit League compete in the MVFC.
“This is a big, big day for UND athletics,” UND athletic director Brian Faison said last week. “There’s no question for us that these leagues are a great fit both geographically and competitively. It brings rivalries back, and more importantly, in a conference setting.”
The move to the MVFC and Summit was made to help control travel costs with the Big Sky, a three time-zone league that expands from North Dakota to California and Washington.
Most importantly, it brings back UND athletics with its regional rivals- NDSU, South Dakota and South Dakota State, as they were back in their Division II days. They split up in 2004, when NDSU and SDSU moved up to Division I and UND and USD stayed in Division II.
“I think part of the experience in growing up in Wishek or Bismarck or Fargo or the Twin Cities is that when they come to North Dakota, their experience should include playing North Dakota State, South Dakota State and South Dakota,” football coach Bob Schweigert said of future UND players.
UND made the switch to Division I athletics in 2008, becoming a full-time member of the Big Sky Conference in 2012.
With UND football continuing to play in the Big Sky Conference through the 2019 season, they won’t be considered a full member and be unable to win the Big Sky regular season title. They can however, still can reach the FCS playoffs with an at-large bid.
“It was mentioned earlier that the conference alignment helps us from the expenses perspective,” UND President Tom Kennedy said. “There’s no doubt the university, depending on what the legislature does in the months ahead, will face tough decisions going forward. We have nothing to say on that now, other than we do face some continuing budget situations.”
Kennedy thanked NDSU President Dean Bresciani for his support through the process.
“(Bresciani) was very supportive and that support was very important,” Kennedy said. Emails obtained by the Grand Forks Herald through open-records request showed the NDSU president’s support of the switch.
UNDS’s administration was very grateful to the Big Sky.
“The Big Sky Presidents’ Council supports the University of North Dakota’s self-assessment of its place in Division I athletics and understands its decision to find a better geographic footprint and natural rivalries,” the statement said. “The Big Sky Conference, in conjunction with North Dakota, the Missouri Valley Football Conference and the Summit League worked together to create a solution that would help UND find better-aligned regional competition, while also tightening the Big Sky’s membership footprint,” read a Big Sky statement.
MVFC commissioner Patty Viverito said her league membership was happy with 10 teams, but the conversation changed when UND was brought up.
“When you look at the North Dakota football program, they’re a great fit competitively and geographically,” she said. “We want to be nationally competitive and they fit that bill.”
It will be great to see UND back in the same conference as NDSU, USD and SDSU to continue the rivalries and to make history.