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'An exciting time' as Frontier Conference officially welcomes four new members

Posted at 4:19 PM, May 21, 2024

BUTTE — Carroll College president and Frontier Conference chairman John Cech described the Frontier Conference's addition of four new members Tuesday as the league's "most significant change ... since it's creation in 1934."

A little over five months after Dickinson State announced it was departing the North Star Athletic Association and returning to the Frontier, the league's Council of Presidents unanimously voted to welcome four other North Star members into the conference — Dakota State (S.D.), Mayville State (N.D.), Valley City State (N.D.) and Bellevue University (Neb.). All five of those universities are set to make their Frontier debuts in time for the 2025-26 academic year.

Those five former North Star institutions will join current full-time Frontier members Carroll College, Montana Tech, Montana Western, MSU-Northern, Rocky Mountain College and the University of Providence to bring the conference's total full-time enrollment to 11 institutions.

"The real beneficiaries of today's expansion of the Frontier Conference will be our student-athletes," said Cech during an online press conference. "Some of those changes and impacts include new competition with like-minded teams, reduced repetition of opponents."

The Frontier members will now be spread across Montana and the Midwest, with 1,000 miles separating its two most distant members, MSU-Northern and Bellevue. Cech said the conference will make great efforts to "limit travel budgets, maximize athletic contests and reduce missed class time."

Cech also said the expansion will be especially beneficial for cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field as meets will have much larger participation.

"We forecast these matchups under a single conference banner. (It) will be exciting for our student-athletes and the support they receive from their fanbase," said Cech.

The Frontier is now set to have 13 football members, and Montana Tech athletic director Matt Stepan said the plan is to have those teams split into two divisions — likely east and west — with each divisional winner earning an automatic bid to the playoffs. Divisional play will also allow for less arduous travel schedules.

"That divisional model will allow us to address travel to the best of our abilities and try to limit that extreme travel," Stepan said. "Our footprint has expanded from basically the West Coast to Nebraska. Short of the Big Ten, I'm not sure there's another conference that covers that."

The slate of new teams will now also allow Frontier basketball to forgo the triple round-robin format its used for the last three seasons. The plan is to debut an 18-game conference schedule for the 2025-26 season and a 22-conference game schedule the following year.

The new-look Frontier will have a lot to sort out over the next year. But for a conference that had been at the NAIA playoff minimum of six colleges, there's certainly strength in numbers.

"This is an opportunity for us to provide stability and really strengthen the existence of our conference," said Stepan. "It's an exciting time to move east and south and we're looking forward to welcoming our new members."