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Coyotes make leap before NCAA steps in
The NCAA closed the borders on membership reclassification last summer, shortly after the University of South Dakota - as well as North Dakota - officially started the leap to Division I.
The timing of the moratorium, which remains in effect until after the 2010-11 school year, did not directly affect USD. But it has already played a role in how the school will spend the next four years.
The all-sports version of the Great West Conference that USD joined this summer is partly a byproduct of the moratorium, which also froze the creation of new conferences.
Because the Great West already existed for football, USD and UND were permitted to explore forming an all-sports version of what the NCAA views as the same league.
“You could say the moratorium is what brought the all-sports Great West about,” said USD associate athletic director David Herbster. “It was the only way independent schools were going to be able to pursue having a conference and conference tournaments.”
A continued flow of transitional schools is precisely what the NCAA is trying to avoid. But that movement was what brought the Great West into existence in 2004 - when several schools (including Northern Colorado, North Dakota State and South Dakota State from the NCC), formed a football conference.
Though the door is closed now, Great West commissioner Ed Grom maintains everyone is where they need to be as far as his league is concerned.
“For the schools who already were in, it doesn’t affect them at all,” Grom said. “Everyone who got the paperwork in on time is fine. They will continue on in the process of becoming an active member.”
The all-sports Great West begins play in earnest in 2009-10, with UND, USD, Houston Baptist, Utah Valley State, Texas Pan-American and the New Jersey Institute of Technology as members.
Of those schools, only Texas Pan-American is at this time an active NCAA Division I member. The others are in various stages of the transition process.
“I don’t think the moratorium is going to affect the Great West,” Grom said.
“There were 11 Division I independents out there when we began making our pitch for a conference. Nine of those schools attended at least one or two of the meetings we had about forming a league. Six of them said ‘yes,’ and a few more are still discussing it.”
USD: the year ahead
Biggest game: Nov. 22 vs. North Dakota. Regardless of what transpires during this hectic first year outside Division II, a win over the Fighting Sioux at the DakotaDome would make it all seem worthwhile.
Biggest challenge: Dealing with the peaks and valleys of the schedule. The Coyotes will play teams that are Division II or lower half the time, and well-established Football Championship Subdivision programs the other half.
In the absence of postseason motivation: An upset on the road against an FCS team would breathe fire into the direction of the program immediately.
Face of the program: Noah Shepard, QB. A great two years from the strong-armed and strong-legged junior from Thornton, Colo., would go a long way toward making the first years of the transition seem fun.
By Mick Garry
Sioux Falls Argus-Leader