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EWU officials applaud Big Sky expansion

North Dakota, Southern Utah added to the mix

Eastern Washington University athletic director Bill Chaves and Eagles head football coach Beau Baldwin both reacted positively to Monday’s announcement that Southern Utah University and the University of North Dakota have accepted invitations to join the Big Sky Conference.

“What continues to occur is that the Big Sky is taking a proactive approach in trying to sustain the long-term viability of the conference,” Chaves said of the BSC’s latest expansion. “And I applaud that thought process.

“But having said that, we’ve still got some things to work out as we move forward – certainly in regards to scheduling when it comes to the various sports. But I think the first piece of the puzzle was what to do as a conference as all of this realignment is shaking out.”

Baldwin, whose nationally ranked Eagles have a bye week prior to entertaining Southern Utah at Roos Field in a non-conference game next Saturday, also praised the Big Sky’s latest decision.

“I think it’s great, I really do,” he said. “Those are two quality programs that will only strengthen our league.”

The Big Sky announced back in September that Cal Poly and UC Davis had agreed to join the league as affiliate members in football. But SSU and UND – both of which will officially join the Big Sky on July 1, 2012 – are the first core institutions to join the conference since Northern Colorado was added in 2006.

Big Sky officials also said on Tuesday that the Football Championship Subdivision league is close to finalizing the addition of the University of South Dakota as a 12th core member, which would bring the conference’s number of football-playing schools to 14.

“The moves we’ve made aren’t about protection,” Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton said in a statement released by the league office. “If the talk out there is true, that playing at the FBS level of football is unsustainable for many schools, then FCS will play an even bigger role in the future.

“The Big Sky presidents want the Big Sky to be the first major player coming from the FCS ranks.”

North Dakota and South Dakota are both NCAA Division II schools that began transitioning to Division I in 2007, which means both would be eligible to compete for Big Sky and NCAA championships starting with the 2012-13 schoolyear.

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