MSU v Northern Colorado Men's Hoops (copy)

Montana State's Jubrile Belo backs down a defender against Northern Colorado on March 7 at Worthington Arena.

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Big Sky women’s and men’s basketball teams will compete in a 16-game conference schedule during the 2020-21 season, the conference announced Friday.

The conference’s council of presidents approved the modification — made during the coronavirus pandemic — after it was recommended by a council of the member schools’ faculty athletics representatives, athletic directors and senior women’s administrators.

The 2020-21 Big Sky basketball schedules, now set to begin on or after New Year’s Eve, haven’t yet been released. Geographic proximity will be considered to determine which six opponents each school plays twice and which four opponents each team plays once.

“This one-year adjustment to our conference basketball schedules is an appropriate measure that delivers significant cost savings to our member institutions while providing our basketball programs with more flexibility in their nonconference scheduling,” Big Sky commissioner Tom Wistrcill said in a press release. “I applaud our schools’ leaders for striking the right balance between providing opportunities for our student-athletes to compete while recognizing the need to make changes for the upcoming year.”

The previous conference schedule was a 20-game double round robin slate that began with two games in early December and resumed after Christmas. Each institution has the freedom to replace the four fewer conference games in 2020-21 with nonconference matchups.

MSU men’s basketball head coach Danny Sprinkle said in early May the Big Sky’s previous set up allowed less available dates for nonconference contests. The Big Sky’s announcement Friday pushes back the beginning of conference games and gives programs more freedom to line up other matchups.

All 11 teams from both men’s and women’s basketball will still advance to the Big Sky tournaments, which for the third consecutive year will be at CenturyLink Arena in Boise, Idaho, on March 8-13.

Bobcats women’s basketball head coach Tricia Binford said she was prepared for the adjustments.

“Although we’re disappointed in not having a complete Big Sky schedule, I understand as a conference that we need to consider ways to save money on budgets this year,” Binford said in a press release. “I am thankful the Big Sky tournament has not been impacted, and as a team we will focus on what we can control and make the most of every opportunity to compete.”

Earlier this month, the Big Sky gave autonomy to its institutions so they each could make decisions on their own while announcing scheduling changes to other sports. Montana State director of athletics Leon Costello said this month Big Sky games were his priority when considering schedules.

He also noted limiting travel, either for Big Sky or nonconference games, would alleviate scheduling issues. The Big Sky is made up of programs in eight states across the western United States.

“The conference is our foundation for what we look at whether it’s a basketball schedule or volleyball schedule,” Costello said. “…That’s where we are with sports in general. And then it comes down to institutions in general being able to make those decisions based on budget. … Like everybody else, everything is on the table right now.”

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Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.