If some North Dakota State fans had visions of their favorite school getting invited to join the Football Bowl Subdivision’s Mountain West Conference, it doesn’t appear it’s going to happen.
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson told the San Diego Union-Tribune about a week ago that he’s been in expansion discussions with Gonzaga and five other schools.
None of them are NDSU.
Bison athletic director Matt Larsen said NDSU has not been contacted by the Mountain West.
With NDSU dominating the Football Championship Subdivision, a lower level of NCAA Division I athletics than FBS, the question has long been whether the Bison have what it takes to move up. NDSU has won six of the last seven FCS titles.
NDSU president Dean Bresciani and Larsen have consistently said FCS is a “sweet spot” for Bison athletics, but have also indicated the Mountain West would be one conference the school would at least have to investigate if it contacted NDSU. Other Group of Five leagues like the Mid-American Conference and the Sun Belt Conference wouldn’t necessarily be a significant step up from the Missouri Valley Football Conference for NDSU.
It appears not to be an issue. Thompson confirmed to the Union-Tribune he’s talked with Gonzaga and five other schools he declined to name. The newspaper speculated Brigham Young, Texas-El Paso, Rice, Grand Canyon and St. Mary’s are possibilities.
The Mountain West consists of Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawai’i, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State, San Jose State, UNLV, Utah State and Wyoming.
NDSU competes in the Summit League in most other sports other than football. The Bison wrestling team competes in the Big 12.
The geographic challenge of the Mountain West being interested in NDSU is obvious. Wyoming, located in Laramie, is the closest school to Fargo — and it’s 800 miles. There would be likely be little support among Mountain West schools to consistently travel to NDSU.
From NDSU’s standpoint, the increased travel would be financially crushing. Every trip for every sport would require a plane flight and overnight stay. And NDSU’s athletic budget is already far behind Mountain West members. NDSU’s budget is about $22 million annually. Wyoming, for example, is at about $35 million.
Bresciani and Larsen have said NDSU will likely wait and see what the changes on the NCAA landscape over the next few years bring before making any decisions. Some have speculated the Power Five conferences (Big Ten, Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference, etc.) will split from the rest of college sports, leaving mid-majors from Group of Five to FCS schools lumped together.