Big Sky Set to Celebrate Men’s, Women’s Anniversaries

Eastern's men's programs have been a member of the Big Sky since the 1987-88 school year, and the women since 1988-89

After 50 years of competition, the Big Sky Conference will soon begin a year-long journey celebrating the league’s success both on and off the playing field by honoring 50 years of men’s athletics and 25 years of women’s athletics.

Eastern Washington University will join in the celebration as a long-time member of the Big Sky Conference for both men and women. The 2013-14 season will be the 27th for the Eagle men, and 26th for the women. Eastern's women's programs were inaugural members of the Mountain West Conference in the 1982-83 season, and that league eventually merged with the Big Sky in 1988-89.

The 50th anniversary will celebrate the all-time individuals, teams and moments in the Big Sky’s history, including the selection of the league's Top 50 male student-athletes and the top 25 female student-athletes. Along with the lists, the league will unveil the most memorable moments for both men’s and women’s competition.

In the coming weeks, fans around the world will be invited to participate in an interactive experience, allowing all to share in the celebration.

“We’ve been gearing up for this celebration for several years,’’ said Commissioner Doug Fullerton. “Remembering and honoring out past student-athletes, teams, record-breaking performances and the coaches and administrators who guided them all along the way will be a lot of fun. We’ve put together a top-notch group of current and former administrators, coaches, and media to provide input to the ballots, and help us select the honorees. We also anticipate tremendous interaction from fans and alumni during the interactive phase. “

The Division I Big Sky Conference officially celebrates its 50th birthday on July 1, 2013. The league was established in 1963 by six charter members – the University of Idaho, Idaho State University, Gonzaga University, The University of Montana, Montana State University and Weber State University.

The Big Sky expanded from the original six in 1970 by adding Boise State and Northern Arizona. Gonzaga left the league in 1979 and was replaced by Nevada, pushing the Big Sky to eight members. The conference grew to nine schools in 1987 with the addition of Eastern Washington.

In 1988-89, the Big Sky Conference first began sponsoring women’s sports. The former Mountain West Conference existed from 1982-88, sponsoring championships for women’s sports at the same institutions the Big Sky had men’s programs. The Big Sky merged with the Mountain West in 1988, forming one league for both men and women.

The 1990s brought some major changes, beginning with Nevada leaving in 1992 and put the Big Sky back at eight teams. In 1996 Boise State and Idaho departed and at the same time the conference added Portland State, Sacramento State and Cal State Northridge. The Big Sky maintained nine teams for five years before Cal State Northridge departed in the spring of 2001.

The Big Sky Conference welcomed the University of North Dakota and Southern Utah University into the fold as full members on July 1, 2012. Cal Poly and UC Davis join the league as affiliate members in football, where the league competes at the Championship Subdivision level (formerly I-AA).

The additions of North Dakota and Southern Utah give the stable Big Sky 11 full institutions and 13 football members. The current lineup includes four of the six charter members: Idaho State University, The University of Montana, Montana State University and Weber State. Northern Arizona enters its 44th season in the Big Sky, giving the conference five members with at least 40 years of continuous membership. Also, charter member Idaho will return most of its intercollegiate sports to the Big Sky on July 1, 2014.

The 2012-13 season marked the completion of 50 years of athletic competition, and 25 sponsoring women’s collegiate athletics. Before the season the league unveiled a new logo and brand that is sure to carry the conference onto another successful 50 years.

The 25th season of women’s athletics also marked a first for the league, as Portland State won the league’s inaugural softball championship.

The Big Sky sponsors championships in 15 sports, including men’s and women’s cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field, basketball and tennis. In addition, there are also championships in football, and women’s volleyball, golf, soccer, and softball.

Fullerton, the fifth commissioner of the Big Sky Conference, is completing his 18th year at the helm. Fullerton took over the Big Sky on July 1, 1995, replacing longtime commissioner Ron Stephenson, who passed away in 2011. Stephenson served the league for 14 years. Steve Belko was the commissioner from 1977-81, while John Roning held the post from 1971-77. The first league commissioner was Jack Friel, who served from 1963-71.

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