State Cuts Will Likely Impact Summit League Membership

The stress on public state university budgets is probably going to directly impact Summit League membership.

The University of North Dakota, yes that North Dakota, from the Big Sky, has to make up a $1.8 million dollar annual shortfall in their athletic department. One of the options on the table is leaving the Big Sky to join the Summit League. UND President, Mark Kennedy, recently moved the department’s chief financial officer out of the athletic director’s control and under the university’s finance department, while forming a committee to examine “a number of factors, including the sports we participate in, conference participation, the number of athletes that we serve and the cost of the programs.

The Summit League has already scheduled a visit to the UND campus November 1st-2nd, which can be reasonably construed as “serious interest” by both parties.

If (when) they move to the Summit League, they will be required to sponsor a minimum of seven sports: men’s and women’s basketball plus five additional core sports that North Dakota can choose. UND is expected to drop a minimum of 2 programs. But they already sponsor 8 women and 8 men’s teams so this won’t be an issue.

The Summit League’s University of Western Illinois is at the mercy of a shaky Illinois state budget and the must cut a whopping $20 million over the next two years. Sports could and probably will be the first to go and the Summit League commissioner Tom Douple has been keeping a close eye on the future of the Leatherneck program. The timing could be ideal to add the Fighting Hawks to the conference.

According to,  a report projects that Indiana-Purdue University Fort Wayne could also see a $2 million to $3 million revenue shortfall next year on its $110 million operating budget. That follows a January recommendation that the joint campus be split into separate schools. This shortfall comes as enrollment has declined 11 percent since 2011 to just 12,719 students last fall. Aside from academic restructuring, a report calls for reducing administrative positions from the current 353 and taking a hard look at the athletic department’s $8 million budget to determine “the campus community’s acceptable level of investment in athletics.”

A Summit League study conducted by USA Today discussed in the Argus Leader concluded:Compared to much of the rest of the Summit League, South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota are doing fine, and more important, probably have more reason to be optimistic about future growth. They are the flagship universities of their state – with large fan bases, community and sponsorship support and regular coverage from local media. Other than North Dakota State University, the rest of the Summit League struggles to meet those standards…”.

“Some (other)programs (in the Summit) don’t have a base,” USD athletic director David Herbster says. “They’re in a metro area (only Denver & Indianapolis and to a lesser degree Omaha in the shadows of University of Nebraska) where they’re overshadowed by bigger programs and media markets, and that’s a struggle. You can become kind of an afterthought.”

While the addition of UND to the Summit League is likely to ignite regional rivalries in the Dakotas, the impact on Denver locally is less clear. DU may benefit by attendance from local UND alums but Denver area fans and the current student body are unlikely to dramatically increase attendance when UND comes to town, especially for non-revenue sports, at least in the short term.

Over the long term, the hockey-based rivalry between Denver and North Dakota might eventually grow into a multi-sport rivalry, which could and probably would drive attendance numbers up. The bottom line is, the effect of a potential move by North Dakota to the Summit League is unclear at the moment and probably won’t affect Denver’s desire to join the West Coast Conference should a spot open up.

7 thoughts on “State Cuts Will Likely Impact Summit League Membership”

  1. Adding North Dakota and/or Western Illinois would add nothing to attendance at DU athletic games, not counting hockey since North Dakota hockey already is a big draw, but only hockey. Adding more state schools to the Summit is more reason for DU to get out as a private institution. Students can’t identify with these colleges now, adding two more of the same won’t help.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. While DU covets the WCC for academic and peer reasons, I think the jury is still out on whether DU students and local fans will “identify” with (or turn out in numbers for) schools such as Pepperdine, Santa Clara, Pacific or Loyola-Marymount, even though those schools are our peer privates and DU has a sizable student population from West Coast. Of the WCC schools, only Gonzaga would likely be a casual fan draw here, assuming BYU leaves the conference at some point to make room for the Pios. To draw serious fans in an oversaturated sports market like Denver, the visiting teams probably need to be name brand schools close regional rivals, or televised on ESPN to get the students to come out.

    The Summit League is starting to become more familiar to us now, even though no school in it is closer to us than an eight hour drive.

    North Dakota has been playing hockey vs DU for 60+ years now, and the last 15 years or so of which have seen the intensity of the hockey rivalry become pretty high level. I think men’s basketball could easily segue into a DU/UND rivalry if both programs were worth watching.

    Omaha also has some potential to blossom into a better rivalry as well, now that DU has a habit of knocking Omaha out of league contention in a variety of sports over the last year or so, including hockey, basketball, volleyball and soccer.

    Interesting times ahead…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good catch Dmksioux. That was an old link – my mistake when looking for “UND” + “Summit League”
      . Still, it looks like a ‘done deal’ that will save on travel and renew old rivalries don’t you think?


      1. Not sure why you think it’s a done deal? Yes, it has the potential to save on travel and reignite some old rivalries but it’s far from a done deal. No rumblings of a move to the Summit being imminent coming out of GF. Only that our President is looking at whether or not our current conferences are in our best interest. AD is on record as saying he has spoken the three different conferences, but none were named.


      2. Thx! Keep us filled in on any new developments. If DU remains in the Summit (very likely) UND would be a great addition.


  3. UND’s President has now confirmed they will not be cutting any sports. Translation? Summit League welcomes UND as the 10th member while Big Sky says sure, you can stay on for FB only until you find a new home.


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