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South Dakota might start playing Great West Conference teams in 2008
In 2008, the University of South Dakota and the University of North Dakota will likely play two of the Great West Football Conference’s three remaining teams and then enter into a traditional relationship with the fledgling league in 2009.
The plan, agreed to informally by Great West athletic directors, would have USD playing Southern Utah and Cal Poly from the league in 2008. UND would play UC Davis and Southern Utah, with the five teams playing a complete round-robin schedule in 2009.
“We were looking for the earliest possible association we could get with an established conference,” USD athletic director Joel Nielsen said. “We knew there might be some compromise involved, but we felt it was important to begin developing relationships and push forward from there.”
USD has arrangements in place for five games so far in 2008, not counting impending agreements with Great West teams. Included on the schedule will be Northern Iowa, Winona State, Missouri-Rolla, North Dakota and most likely, West Texas A&M.
With North Dakota State and South Dakota State leaving the Great West for the Gateway Football Conference the same time USD and UND are leaving Division II, joining the football-only Great West would appear to be a well-timed marriage.
The glitch for 2008 is that USD and UND will be carrying a “non-counter” status during the first season of their move to the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA. As non-counters, wins over USD or UND will not count toward a team’s victory total for the purpose of determining playoff bids.
Because the Great West, formed in 2004, does not have an automatic NCAA postseason bid, playoff-eligible teams must get at-large berths to see the playoffs.
“That throws you right out of it,” Cal Poly athletic director Alison Cone said of the incoming schools’ non-counter status. “That’s why we elected to do it the way we did it. But we’re looking forward to them being counters in the mix with us after that.”
Southern Utah and Cal Poly have been playoff-eligible FCS schools, but UC-Davis is coming out of NCAA transitional purgatory this fall. Like Cal Poly, the school was not interested in taking on any more scheduling obstacles in ‘08.
“I was very straight-forward from the beginning - we weren’t going to play two non-counters in ‘08,” UC-Davis athletic director Greg Warzecka said. “We’ve worked for years to get through this transition. It’s a long process and we’re anxious to get into position for our team to get an NCAA berth.”
Southern Utah was the one school - hence the agreement to play both USD and UND in ‘08 - that would have agreed to a full schedule right away.
“We talked as a league about taking a year off then coming back, but the league is coming off an outstanding season,” Southern Utah athletic director Ken Beazer said. “If we take the year off, we then lose some of that momentum.”
Aided by soon-to-be-gone NDSU and SDSU, the Great West ended the 2006 season with four of five teams in the top 25, earning the highest GPI (Gridiron Power Index) in the nation among FCS conferences.
Warzecka said seven wins over FCS teams has been the bench mark for at-large playoff bids, and with UND and USD both on the schedule, those seven wins are more difficult to get.
“It’s just the best we can do for now,” he said. “But in ‘09, I think we’ll have smooth sailing.”
Smooth sailing is a relative term for the Great West, which has established a tradition of good football and poor stability.
Originally cobbled together with seven schools, it has been on unsteady ground from the beginning. St. Mary’s of California gave up football before playing its first league game, and Northern Colorado left for the Big Sky Conference after just one season. The last two years it has been a five-team conference.
“I think bringing in two flagship schools with 100-year histories is attractive to the Great West,” Nielsen said. “Hopefully, we can enhance what they’ve started on.”
The Argus Leader, Wed, 16 May 2007
By Mick Garry