Posted: Jun 7, 2013 8:56 AM by Dan Cimmino - MTN Sports
MISSOULA - The Big Sky Conference presidents met recently in Missoula and approved a number of proposals that will impact all 15 of the league's sports, as well as a sixteenth that will be added in 2015.
Atop the presidents' to-do list was to address league scheduling for 2014-15 when former Big Sky member Idaho will rejoin the league.
Discussing proposals brought forward by athletic directors, senior women's administrators and faculty athletic representatives, who met last month in Pocatello, the presidents approved an 18-game schedule for men's and women's basketball and a 16-game schedule for volleyball.
Big Sky basketball teams played a 20-game, double round-robin schedule last season and will again next winter as well. With Idaho bumping league membership to a dozen teams in 2014-15, basketball will use a single-division format and play 18 league games.
The specifics of how to create an 18-game basketball schedule were not finalized.
Volleyball, which currently hosts its tournament the weekend of Thanksgiving, will split into two divisions and play a 16-match schedule. Volleyball, like basketball, will play a 20-game schedule this fall for the second straight season.
Beginning in 2014, teams will play a double round-robin schedule against schools within their six-team division and the teams in the other division once. That will give teams four open weekends at the start of the season for nonconference matches and move the tournament to the weekend before Thanksgiving.
The breakdown of volleyball divisions is still being worked out, but schools will either be split north-south or east-west.
"A 16-game, two-division format made sense for volleyball," Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton said. "It cuts the conference schedule from 10 weeks down to eight, which will allow us to move the tournament off Thanksgiving weekend while making it easier for teams to schedule nonconference games.
"Our administrators believed 18 games with no divisions will be a better format for basketball, since it's becoming more and more difficult to schedule home games against Division I nonconference opponents.
"Playing in a single division allows for a more equitable schedule than an 18-game schedule with two divisions. We'll likely base our schedule on the model currently in use by the Pac-12."
The Big Sky soccer tournament remained, unjustly to most, at only four teams despite the addition of North Dakota and Southern Utah last season, and a four-team tournament will remain in place for this fall.
In the fall of 2014, the tournament will increase to six teams, with quarterfinals on Thursday, semifinals on Friday and the championship match on Sunday.
The most important end result of that approval, according to Montana soccer coach Mark Plakorus, is the increased student-athlete experience. And he should know. Plakorus has taken his first two Griz teams to the tournament championship match.
"The student-athletes win with an expansion of the tournament field because more kids will get an opportunity to have a championship experience, which I think is pretty special," he said.
"Expanding the tournament is also going to make the regular season that much more exciting. The more teams you have playing to the very end with a chance to get into the tournament keeps the level of competition higher for everyone."
The increase in teams will also give soccer something other sports have long enjoyed: the tournament bye. The regular-season champion will still host the tournament, but now the teams finishing first and second will advance directly to the semifinal round.
"By adding that reward for being one of the top two teams, it's going to be another reason teams are competing like crazy until the end (of the regular season)," Plakorus said. "It rewards the top teams for the work they did during the regular season and gives them a deserved advantage."
The league also announced Thursday plans to reinstate a men's golf championship in the spring of 2015. At that time, the Big Sky will have six members with men's golf, the minimum needed to host a championship.
North Dakota, Northern Colorado, Sacramento State, Southern Utah and Weber State currently have men's golf. Those programs compete in the America Sky Conference (a men's golf-only league). Idaho's men's golf program competes in the WAC.
Men's golf previously had three disjointed stints as a Big Sky Conference sport, the most recent being 1993-2002.
Other proposals that were approved:
* Sacramento State will continue to host the tennis tournament through 2017. Sac State has hosted the tennis championship at the Gold River Racquet Club in Gold River, Calif., six of the last seven years and will do so again in 2014.
* New individual awards will be added in football and men's and women's basketball. Football will recognize a Freshman of the Year. Basketball will add a Sixth Player of the Year award.
* The league also adopted a noisemaker policy for football. Spectators at football games will no longer be allowed to have musical instruments or amplified artificial noisemakers, including vuvuzelas and duck whistles.
* The approved 2013-14 Big Sky Conference championship schedule:
Cross country: Saturday, Nov. 2, at Bozeman, Mont.
Soccer: Thursday/Saturday, Nov. 7/9, or Friday/Sunday, Nov. 8/10, at the regular-season champion
Volleyball: Friday-Saturday, Nov. 29-30, at Portland, Ore.
Indoor track and field: Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 27-March 1, at Pocatello, Idaho
Men's and women's basketball: Thursday-Saturday, March 13-15, at regular-season champion
Women's golf: Sunday-Tuesday, April 20-22, at Chandler, Ariz.
Men's and women's tennis: Friday-Sunday, April 25-27, at Gold River, Calif.
Softball: Thursday-Saturday, May 8-10, at regular-season champion
Outdoor track and field: Wednesday-Saturday, May 14-17, at Flagstaff, Ariz.