Beginning with the 2011-2012 school year, the University of South Dakota athletic department will move from the Great West Conference to the Summit League for all sports.
All sports that is except football.
For now, the department’s premier program will remain a member of the far-flung Great West Conference.
New USD athletic director Dave Sayler is keeping his options open when it comes to football’s current home and potential future conferences.
“I think the (Great West Conference) has provided a good bridge for us and I certainly look to cement that relationship and I’ve already had some dialogue with the commissioner,” Sayler said. “However, that being said, if situations present themselves for football, whether that be in the Missouri Valley Football Conference or the Big Sky Conference or even some type of Summit League adding football, which the commissioner has expressed some interest in exploring, those three options are something we would look at and strongly consider just based on the regionalization of it all and having rivals close by.”
The Great West Conference features football-playing schools in California, Utah, North Dakota and South Dakota. The Missouri Valley Football Conference is home to North Dakota State and South Dakota State. Sayler said he believes that rivalries with SDSU and the North Dakota schools are critical to all four schools’ long-term success.
“I’ve already talked to SDSU (athletic director Justin Sell) and what I will share with the North Dakota athletic directors, is that I think all four of our schools being viable and good is better for everybody,” Sayler said. “Our rivalries will get that much stronger, it will give more exposure to the region and it will help budgets. All of us being together and strong is good. Especially us and SDSU being viable and strong with each other and great rivals can help us achieve more things within the state legislature. We are stronger as two than we are being split.”
The two South Dakota schools have not met on the football field since 2003 when both schools were still Division II members of the North Central Conference. The Jackrabbits won that game 22-11.
Sayler said getting football into the same conference as the Jackrabbits would solve scheduling issues. But until then, it is going to take a collaborative effort between both schools to get the two teams back on the football field.
“Justin and I have agreed to meet when I get up there and try to work on some dates and see what we can get done,” Sayler said.
The impact from this summer’s recent conference realignment in Division I could eventually be felt in South Dakota, Sayler said. He said he can see one scenario where Montana and Montana State move to Football Bowl Subdivision, leaving a hole USD could help fill in the Big Sky Conference.
“I do think that is one scenario that has some possibility of happening, whether that is in the immediate future or a year or two away, remains to be seen,” he said. “I think some of the realignment is done for now, so I don’t think you will see much more shuffle for right now. But I think in the next two or three years there will be another seismic shift that’s going to cause some of those things to happen and at the time I think the Big Sky would be in play.”
Whatever conference the Coyote football team eventually calls home, Sayler said he is committed to finding the best possible conference for USD football.
“Like I said, the Great West Conference has been a great bridge. If football stays in the GWC I’ll be excited about that, too,” Sayler said. “I just want to make sure that we find the best home possible, that maximizes our resources the best way. I think playing North Dakota, North Dakota State and South Dakota State ultimately in football would be perfect for the region.”