Copyright 2017 Spokane Spokesman-Review
Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA)
The athletic directors of the Big Sky Conference considered several choices in handling the departure of North Dakota and the arrival of Idaho in football in 2018.
According to Eastern Washington athletic director Bill Chaves, discussions in the summer and fall of 2016 included splitting the 13-school conference into two divisions as well as protecting more rivalries.
Either option would have protected Eastern's 35-year series with Montana, but at a cost, Chaves said.
For example, if Eastern were placed in a six-team northern division (with Montana, Montana State, Idaho, Idaho State and Portland State), it would have just two slots per season to play the seven teams from the other division.
That's too long between meetings, said Chaves, who also worried that a division champion from the weaker division wouldn't be guaranteed a postseason berth.
"That's where I stood, that we're all going for this greater goal of being one of the 24 teams in the playoffs," Chaves said.
The same objections were raised against having four protected rivalries, Chaves said.
It's unclear whether the group seriously considered a three-rivalry format, which appears to make geographic sense while not diluting the overall league schedule.
In such a format, Eastern's protected rivalries would be Idaho, Montana and PSU. Montana's other rivals would be Idaho and Montana State, and Idaho's third rival would be Idaho State.
The difference in missed meetings is small. During any given year, Eastern would play five of the nine nonprotected schools (compared to six out of 10 in the recently-adopted format).
A drawback is that because of the odd number of schools, one would have just two protected rivalries.
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