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UND may have new conference
UND and other programs moving to NCAA Division I this fall want as smooth a transition as possible.
A key to that smooth move is finding a conference. So, instead of waiting for a conference to add them, they might just create their own.
UND, South Dakota and several other schools that will be Division I independents next season may form a league in 2008-09, in hopes of starting competition with the 2009-10 school year.
Benefits of creating a conference include scheduling, the ability to recognize athletes with weekly and postseason honors, and of course, the opportunity to award conference championships.
“A number of the independents have been talking regarding some sort of affiliation for scheduling purposes,” said Joel Nielsen, South Dakota athletic director. “And those discussions have extended into the possibility of creating or forming a league that will bring all the positives for the student-athletes that typically surround a league setup.”
The league likely would be a stopgap stop for such schools as UND and South Dakota. Those schools hope to join a more established and prestigious all-sports conference down the road.
“I view this as the next step in our transition to Division I,” UND athletic director Brian Faison said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of interesting dynamics with conferences over the next couple of years, particularly with the high cost of travel.”
UND and South Dakota have completed their transition year for the move to Division I. However, they won’t be eligible for NCAA playoffs until the 2012-13 school year.
The Sioux, along with South Dakota, will be in the Great West Football Conference beginning this season. Otherwise, UND is looking for a conference for most sports, with the exception of men’s and women’s hockey, where they compete in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
The new all-sports conference reportedly would call itself the Great West. Among schools mentioned as possible members are Texas-Pan American, Seattle University, Chicago State, Houston Baptist, Utah Valley State and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
“It can work,” Faison said. “It definitely would be a help to the schools who are going through this transition. It gives you a base of Division I games (to meet Division I scheduling requirements).”
With rising fuel prices, travel would be an issue. But Faison said those costs would be offset by UND not having to pay out as many big guarantees for Division I home games.
Competing for conference titles in the transition would be a big help for UND, Faison said. So would being able to play Division I opponents within a conference, he said.
“I don’t know if one is more valuable than the other,” Faison said. “They’re both pretty important.”
In addition to UND and South Dakota, the other three schools in the football Great West are Southern Utah, which competes in the Summit League for other sports, and Cal Davis and Cal Poly, who play in the Big West in other sports.
Nielsen said the all-sports conference likely would have six to eight schools. He added that he’s not sure how the conference would be staffed.
“It’s a little bit early on that,” he said. “We’re still working through a lot of the policies and procedures on how something like this would work.
“Organizationally, we would like to kick it off for 2008-09.”
Nielsen said Ed Grom, commissioner of the Great West Football Conference, and independent athletic directors have been involved in talks about the new all-sports conference.
It is an extension of talks regarding scheduling alliances.
Heavy lifting remains, Nielsen said.
“This is trying to build and create a 747 and get it off the pad,” he said.
Kevin Fee , Grand Forks Herald
Published Wednesday, June 25, 2008