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Summit League in no hurry to add a 12th school

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FARGO - The University of North Dakota athletic department may have time on its side in its quest to become a member of The Summit League.

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How long will The Summit League wait until UND resolves its Sioux nickname issue before it is even considered for membership?

"We can wait 20 years if we want to," said Summit League Commissioner Tom Douple. "But we're not waiting around for them to solve it. That's their issue. We are going to move forward."

The Summit League did just that Wednesday when it expanded to 11 teams with the addition of South Dakota. The Vermillion, S.D., school will officially join the league for the 2011-12 school year.

Meanwhile, UND - one of six other schools to apply for Summit League membership - has until Nov. 30, 2010, to resolve its nickname issue. A settlement with the NCAA requires UND to retire its nickname by then if the school can not win support from tribal councils of both the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux reservations.

About the time Summit League officials made a campus visit to USD earlier this year, the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education formed a UND nickname and logo committee to study the issue.

The longer the issue lingers, the more UND supporters worry they will be left behind without a conference that provides automatic berths to NCAA tournaments. Currently, the Sioux, USD and five other schools are part of the Great West Conference - considered by many as a temporary fix for the independent schools.

"And it becomes even more of a concern with South Dakota leaving the Great West," said UND athletic director Brian Faison. "You just don't know what will happen."

Faison hopes - once the nickname issue is resolved - for a chance to show off the university to The Summit League. Faison maintains athletic facilities, strong financial support and academic prowess will be a good fit for the conference.

"And from a geographic standpoint, we are in a footprint that makes a lot of sense," Faison said. "I would think 12 teams makes more sense than having 11 teams for scheduling purposes."

That's the same argument Utah Valley State would like to present to The Summit League. Just as UND could be paired with NDSU as traveling partners, Utah Valley could be paired with current Summit League member Southern Utah.

But Utah Valley athletic director Michael Jacobsen said Thursday the school's membership application has been ignored.

"We call them all the time, and every time they tell us they are not interested in coming out west for another member," said Jacobsen, whose Orem, Utah, school is in its final year of a seven-year transition from junior college to Division I.

"In my mind, there is no question North Dakota will eventually be riding the shirt tails of South Dakota. That would be the natural thing to do for them to become the next member."

But Douple said finding the right school is more important than turning The Summit into a 12-team league. He said conferences like the Ohio Valley, Atlantic Sun, Southland, Big Ten, Mountain West and Big Sky have survived quite well with scheduling despite an odd number of members.

The addition of USD also gives the Summit League a cushion in case a member would leave. If a conference dips to as low as eight members, it could lose its automatic qualifier privileges for national tournaments.

"We are in a position that we can be extremely selective," Douple said. "We don't need to expand. We don't have a sense of urgency to expand."

That could provide more time for UND.

"Membership is always a permanent agenda item," Douple said.

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