For the second time in as many years, The Summit League Conference is looking to expand. Last year, the University of South Dakota signed on and will begin league play in the fall of 2011. Now, the University of North Dakota is being considered as the next potential member.
A site team consisting of Summit League Commissioner Tom Douple and multiple league officials and university presidents, including Oakland University President Dr. Gary Russi, will visit the UND campus in Grand Forks, N.D. Nov. 1-2 to meet with university officials and gather information about UND and its athletic programs.
"We added South Dakota a year ago and believe they bring a very good overall athletic program to the league, we are currently reviewing if the University of North Dakota would do the same," Douple said. "The presidents will discuss the results of the site visit after (meeting with UND officials). If North Dakota is accepted, it could start league play in the fall of 2012 and be eligible for all league championships if that occurred."
For North Dakota, which moved to Division I in 2006, joining the Summit League is an opportunity to continue the development of its athletic programs.
"We are looking forward to the Summit League's visit to our campus as part of their membership evaluation process," North Dakota Director of Athletics Brian Faison said in a statement. "This is a great chance to showcase the great things that are happening at the University of North Dakota and in the community of Grand Forks."
Whether or not the addition of the Fighting Sioux would strengthen the Summit League is up for debate, and thus is being carefully reviewed.
Their addition would, however, create another instant regional rivalry with the other Dakota-based schools (South Dakota State, North Dakota State and South Dakota). It would also mean more trips to the Great Plains region for Oakland.
"I think it can strengthen our league from the standpoint that, when you talk about the Dakota schools, those are the major state schools for those states," Oakland University Athletic Director Tracy Huth said. "The question in my mind right now is that if we expand and bring in North Dakota, we have an 11-team league. I'm not sure how we handle that within all the team sports particularly with all the traveling and having an uneven number of teams. I'll be curious to see if we try and continue to expand."
The Summit League has schools in eight states, going as far east as Oakland, as far south as Oral Roberts in Tulsa, Okla., and as far west as Southern Utah in Cedar City. Douple said the goal is to build expanded competition in the Midwest region, which he expects to strengthen rivalries and lessen the burden of expensive travel. Centenary College of Shreveport, La., is leaving the conference after this season.
"Having rivalries within always helps a conference," Douple said. "It attracts media interest and fan interest. Expansion in the past five years has been within the Midwest region only and by design. That footprint benefits each school in terms of travel costs, rivalries and so on. We have taken a proactive approach to expansion in the past five years and will continue to explore the issue each year with Midwestern region institutions."
The Summit League is not the only conference looking to expand.
With rumors of 16-team mega conferences evolving in the coming years, conferences such as the Summit League may view expansion as necessary in order to avoid being left behind.
"A lot of how this works out will depend on what happens from there," Huth said. "I think we're kind of protecting the integrity of the league given what's going on with all the other conferences looking to expand, so from that aspect I think it's a good move."
Another school, Eastern Illinois University which currently competes in swimming and diving, will join in men's soccer in 2011.