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Athletic Future Cloudy, but CSUN Looks to Big Sky : Colleges: Matadors inquire about opening to be created by departures of Idaho and Boise State.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A void was created in the Big Sky Conference last week, and Cal State Northridge may ultimately help fill it.

Idaho and Boise State of the Big Sky have received preliminary clearance to defect to the NCAA Division I ranks. Northridge and fellow American West Conference members Cal State Sacramento and Southern Utah have expressed “real interest” to Big Sky members about joining their conference, Northridge Athletic Director Bob Hiegert said Thursday.

Boise State and Idaho, which will move to Division I from the I-AA Big Sky, could join the Big West Conference as soon as 1996-97.

An NCAA ruling on the move is expected in a few months. Hiegert said Boise State and Idaho must receive exemptions from the NCAA regarding stadium size before the shuffle takes place. Neither school’s home stadium meets minimum seating criteria.

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Northridge would join the Big Sky in all sports, except men’s and women’s swimming, baseball, soccer, softball and men’s volleyball. However, depending on the final composition of the Big Sky, these programs also could be included in the conference if enough new schools field those teams.

“In most respects, (the Big Sky) takes care of most of our problems,” Hiegert said.

A Northridge move of any sort likely will be contingent on the passage of a student referendum next month. Students will be asked to vote on a $49 increase in semester registration fees to underwrite the Matador athletic budget.

Northridge and other AWC members last spring made inquiries about merging with the Big West, but officials said the conference was not in an expansion mode at the time. Last week, that changed.

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Portland State, a Division II school, also has expressed interest in joining the Big Sky.

Without Boise State and Idaho, the Big Sky would consist of Eastern Washington, Idaho State, Montana, Montana State, Weber State and Northern Arizona. The NCAA requires a minimum of six teams for a conference to earn an automatic postseason berth, which means the Big Sky’s margin for error could soon be nil. The AWC has no automatic berth.

“We could go with one big conference, or a north and south (division) or whatever,” Hiegert said.

The AWC membership could soon dwindle. Hiegert said Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the fourth member of the AWC, already has received an invitation to join the Big West, along with Boise, Idaho and North Texas State.

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Northridge’s football, cross-country and track and field teams are in the AWC, the baseball and softball teams play in the Western Athletic Conference, and several other teams play in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. The men’s basketball team competes as a Division I independent.

Hiegert said Northridge also is in a wait-and-see posture regarding the Big West, which includes Cal State sister schools such as Long Beach State and Fullerton. The Big West also is shrinking--Fresno State left the Big West for the WAC two years ago and Nevada Las Vegas and San Jose State are doing likewise in 1996-97.

However, the Big West’s long-range plans aren’t clear and Northridge has no plans to tread water. What’s more, discussions with the Big West haven’t been as formal, Hiegert said.

“The Big West, for us, is probably the closest fit,” Hiegert said. “But we need to get our house in order and do what we need to do.”

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