Big Sky’s commish eyes change

2014-08-04T15:26:00Z 2014-08-05T16:12:05Z Big Sky’s commish eyes changeBy BILL SPELTZ Missoulian The Billings Gazette
August 04, 2014 3:26 pm  • 

Turning 50 last week felt mighty peculiar.

What should I say? What do I wear? Is everyone eyeing my bald spot and thinning hair?

Solace was found Tuesday in one of my senior role models. Los Angeles Dodgers play-by-play announcer Vin Scully signed up for his 66th season in the booth.

He’s 86 years old. Truly amazing.

Change has become the monster under my bed. Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, smartphones, high-performance tires, gluten-free food — seems like someone is constantly coming up with a sinister scheme to make me feel outdated or slow-witted.

I need to find out what Big Sky Conference commissioner and 60-something Hamilton native Doug Fullerton is eating for breakfast. There’s a guy who knows how to stay ahead of the game. A brave soul who’s not afraid to meet the future head-on.

“We’re probably in one of the most interesting times in college athletics that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in the business since 1971,” he said recently at the Big Sky Kickoff in Park City, Utah.

Fullerton has this competitive edge that serves him well. He’ll tell you flat-out one of the benefits of adding Cal Poly and UC Davis to the Big Sky football lineup was squeezing the now-defunct football WAC.

“There are only three of us playing football in the West – the Pac-12, Mountain West and Big Sky,” said the former Army helicopter pilot. “Our access to quality student athletes will continue to go up.”

Fullerton would love for the University of Idaho to join the Big Sky football ranks. He talks with school officials all the time and he’s not real impressed with the Vandals’ Sun Belt Conference affiliation.

He expects a new NCAA governance structure to give the top five FBS conferences more freedom to pay athletes beyond full-ride scholarships. Leagues like the Sun Belt will have a terrible time keeping up financially, leaving them in a precarious position.

“Our athletic budgets right now are not only bigger, they’re healthier,” Fullerton said in comparing the Big Sky to the Sun Belt. “We built our budgets on success. They built their budgets on getting beat by the bigger schools.

“They need the money and the big FBS schools need the win to support their bowl (hopes).”

Here’s the real kicker when it comes to the straight-talking Fullerton: He has this idea to cut the next big crises off at the pass by dividing the ever-growing Big Sky into two leagues – one playing football on the FBS level and one in the FCS. The unprecedented move would appease the ambitious and solve some ongoing Big Sky scheduling problems in multiple sports.

“Last time I put it out there it was uncomfortable because the presidents in the room, they’re thinking, ‘That means you stay in the FCS, you go to FBS,’” Fullerton said. “That was uncomfortable for them. But I have to get them past that. I do.”

The commish calls it the next “big elephant in the room,” and he’d rather talk about it now than have league members decide on their own that it’s time to go FBS.

Whether you like the idea or not, it’s nice to know the Big Sky’s Bitterroot connection will never be caught turning a blind eye to change.

Maybe that’s why his league has never been stronger.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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