Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton extended an invitation to Utah State University and the University of Idaho to the Big Sky Conference on Thursday evening when he spoke at Weber State University.
Fullerton invited the two schools from the Western Athletic Conference to join the Big Sky Conference. He said the smaller schools would have a better chance to be competitive in the Big Sky.
“When I invite Utah State and Idaho to join the Big Sky,” Fullerton said, “I’m basically about 40 percent serious and 60 percent trying to make a point. The point is they always talk about taking our teams. Why would our teams go?”
Fullerton said the odds would be better for schools like UI and USU in the Big Sky Conference. Since schools in the Big Sky don’t compete in the Football Bowl Series, there is a lot more opportunity for teams to succeed and win championships.
The Big Sky Conference is a member of the Football Championship Series, where the national championship is decided by a playoff system rather than the collegiate bowl system used in the FBS.
“We can win championships,” Fullerton said. “The FBS is now getting stretched. The top budgets in the FBS are $140 million a year in their athletic programs alone. The bottom budgets in the FBS are $14 million.”
The Big Sky has proven to be a competitive league, with last year’s FCS National Champion being Eastern Washington University. Fullerton’s message was that the Big Sky gives smaller schools a better chance to succeed and win championships.
“The best conferences at our level are now in better financial and competitive shape than the last quartile in the FBS,” Fullerton said. “Because we’ve competed out of the FCS, we’ve been able to build successful programs. We get wins. They (USU and Idaho) have had to play out of that fourth quartile against that $140 million budget; they aren’t getting very many wins. They aren’t building their programs.”
WSU athletic director Jerry Bovee also spoke at the press conference, talking about the conference and his feelings about the state of college athletics.
“Some of my colleagues in other areas were a little nervous that when the music stopped, they were wondering if they’d have a seat to sit in,” Bovee said. “We knew we’d have a seat to sit in. Our goal from the beginning is to be the best we can be in our current state.”
Last year, the University of Montana turned down an invite to leave the Big Sky and join the Western Athletic Conference. Bovee said he feels UM’s decision to stay is proof that the conference is strong.
“It was really telling for me when Montana, probably the most marketable program and brand in our conference, decided it was in their best interest to stay in the Big Sky at that time,” he said.
Whether or not USU or UI accept Fullerton’s invite to join the Big Sky, the message was clear at Thursday night’s press conference: Fullerton and Bovee feel the Big Sky Conference is strong.