Blanchette: Apparently, this Sky has no limit
The Pac-10/12 gets jock-teased by Texas.
The Big Sky gets deked by South Dakota.
If ever an abject demonstration was required to illustrate the separation of college football’s haves from the half-pints, this would be it.
Yes, the latest college sports collective to go for broke but not really get what it wants is the Sky, for which the modifier “Big” now seems ridiculously inadequate. The vote here is for “Mondo.”
With the addition earlier this week of North Dakota and Southern Utah, the Sky will eventually:
• Include 11 schools that are in for all sports and two more (Cal Poly and UC Davis) that joined earlier just for football;
• Stretch 1,500 miles east-to-west and 1,200 vertically;
• Encompass three time zones and,
• Cover, including flyover country, nearly 43 percent of the land mass of the lower 48 states.
And when UND’s volleyball team shows up at Sacramento State to play in front of 219 people, isn’t somebody going to ask, “Really? All that for this?”
Yet the plan was to go even more mondo. As it welcomed UND and Southern Utah, the league reported that it was “on the verge of announcing the addition of the University of South Dakota” as well. Upon reading that the marriage was not yet consummated, the commissioner of the Missouri Valley Football Conference called up the Coyotes and wondered, “Can we talk?” About 10 minutes later, USD sent the Sky to Dump City.
As with the Pac-10 and Texas episode, it recalled the ending of the movie “Breaker Morant,” the titular character musing to his pal, “This is what comes from empire building.” Then both are executed by a firing squad.
OK, maybe a little extreme.
But faces were, how you say, red. At least the Pac-10 will realize some impressive coinage from its expansion.
North Dakota is now hanging out by its lonesome in Central time, about 700 miles from anywhere, with the other three Dakota peers happily ensconced together. The ballyhooed split into two seven-team football divisions is now unlikely. And if South Dakota was so lukewarm about the deal that it escaped via afterthought, then not only was the announcement premature but possibly so were the rote huzzahs that emanated from inside the conference.
Nevertheless, it is done. And it was approved by a roomful of smart guys with doctorates, though perhaps none in geography.
Why was it done? Well, that seems abundantly clear.
College athletics is no longer a landscape, but a time-lapse photo. It’s all about movement, either to get bigger and increase paydays – or to protect yourself from defections and survive. Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton suggested the latter – with Montana being wooed by the Western Athletic Conference – was behind the football-only invitations to the California schools, breaking with the long-standing conference rule that required participation in all “core” sports. But he tried to sell the latest expansion at face value, to add “the right kind of schools.”
Hmm. Except that as it knocked on the lodge door for 15 years, Southern Utah was never embraced as the “right kind” of school.
Then he proceeded to say that, “If you look at what the Big Sky is embarking on and what I think we can become at the FCS level, and you try to figure out what the end game is in the West as far as the FBS … it makes a lot of sense that you can build the kind of program you want to build here in FCS. You don’t have to go FBS.”
If that doesn’t scream, “Don’t go, Montana!” what does? And that’s OK. Beats what happened 15 years ago. Boise State, Nevada and Idaho were likely to leave the league anyway, but a couple of helpful Big Sky presidents decided to valet park the getaway car.
Fullerton acknowledged presidential leadership has changed, and thus so has the vision – a similar explanation that has been made for the Pac-10’s sudden aggressiveness, and with the West Coast Conference’s luring of Brigham Young.
But the commissioner keeps referring to being “a major player in the West” and “opportunity” – without quite specifying what the opportunity is. It’s hard to imagine that conference size matters all that much at the FCS level, that it’s going to translate into major financial gain – which in the end, is the only reason to compromise those old values about core sports, sending teams halfway across the country and like-minded schools. Cedar City and Grand Forks are neither destinations nor demographically dazzling.
The original Big Sky had some identity. The latest one, at first blush, is a confusing hodge-podge.