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North Dakota to join the Summit League in 2018

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The Fighting Hawks are leaving the Big Sky for greener pastures.

NCAA Basketball: Air Force at Denver Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The University of North Dakota will move from the Big Sky to the Summit League for the 2018-19 season, except for football, which will join the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020.

The university announced the move in a release from their athletic department Thursday afternoon.

“This is an important move for UND Athletics and for our fans,” [North Dakota president Mark] Kennedy said. “We have appreciated our time in the Big Sky Conference and we thank our friends in that conference for their hospitality and the opportunity to have competed against some excellent teams. But we are excited to renew long-treasured rivalries in joining many of our former conference companions in The Summit League and the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

The move to the Summit League will reunite North Dakota with some familiar faces. The university spent time with South Dakota in the Great West Conference after transitioning to Division I, and also faced South Dakota State, Nebraska Omaha, and North Dakota State in Division II.

The Fighting Hawks are currently 11-7, and sport a 6-2 record in the Big Sky so far. Here’s what head coach Brian Jones had to say about the move:

"Moving to The Summit League brings our natural rivals back, which I think will energize our fan base. They will be able to get to some road games and easily get to Sioux Falls for the conference tournament. It's also bittersweet because we will always be grateful to the Big Sky and the opportunity it provided for us to grow as a Division I institution."

The addition of North Dakota will bring the Summit League’s enrollment to 10 teams for the first time since 2012. Summit League commissioner Tom Douple expressed his excitement to add North Dakota to the mix:

“On behalf of the President’s Council, I am pleased to announce the University of North Dakota as the newest member of The Summit League,” said Douple. “The university has a strong academic reputation and a history of successful athletics, which makes it a tremendous addition and fit for our league.”

The Fighting Hawks will complete their short stint in the Big Sky at the end of the 2017-18 season. After that, they’ll officially be a member of the Summit League and will jump right into what has become an increasingly competitive conference in recent years.