By Kevin Sweeney
The University of North Dakota is the latest school to change conferences. UND President Mark Kennedy and Athletic Directer Brian Faison announced today that the Fighting Hawks will join the Summit League in all sports except football beginning in July of 2018. This will end North Dakota’s membership of the Big Sky Conference, which it joined in 2012 after leaving the now-disbanded Great West Conference.
The news was first reported by The Grand Forks Herald.
“Moving to The Summit League brings our natural rivals back, which I think will energize our fan base. They will be able to get to some road games and easily get to Sioux Falls for the conference tournament.” UND Head Coach Brian Jones said in the school’s press release. “It’s also bittersweet because we will always be grateful to the Big Sky and the opportunity it provided for us to grow as a Division I institution.”
A move to the Summit League makes sense geographically for the Fighting Hawks, as UND is the only school in the Dakotas that isn’t a current member of the Summit League. North Dakota has played North Dakota State every season in which both schools have been D-1, but the Fighting Hawks haven’t played South Dakota State since the 2014-15 season and have never played South Dakota as a Division 1 member.
It seemed likely that an addition or subtraction was likely to the Summit League, as the conference currently has 9 teams.
The move will leave the Big Sky with 11 members in basketball. It is unclear whether the conference will look to fill North Dakota’s spot.
North Dakota’s basketball team currently sits a half game out of first place in the Big Sky, with a 6-2 conference record. The Fighting Hawks have an excellent chance at reaching their first Division 1 NCAA Tournament in program history this season.