|« Jacks aim to boost staff, facilities SDSU||Scrimmage shows Redbirds already running toward goal »|
Where has the rivalry gone?
The two largest universities in South Dakota have not faced off in football or basketball since 2003-04, when South Dakota State began the NCAA Division I reclassification process and the University of South Dakota reaffirmed its commitment to Division II.
But the separation has not exactly killed interest in the rivalry.
“I think that conversation, that question, is out there every day at every coffee shop around,” SDSU athletic director Fred Oien said.
It’s the same on the other side of the equation.
“It’s one of the most frequent questions I get as an athletic director,” USD’s Joel Nielsen said. “The best scenario for how it could work in the future is to look at Iowa and Iowa State. It took a lot of work from a lot of people, but they found mutual ground to schedule each other. They made it something that was beneficial financially, beneficial for the fans, and beneficial to the state because of the excitement it created.”
Talk is sure to pick up again as the Coyotes begin their own Division I transition this fall. Nonetheless, Oien said that he and Nielsen have not had a discussion about scheduling in quite some time.
Why not? Because for as much as sports fans in the state might want to see State and the U go at it again, there are still valid reasons for them to remain apart.
For starters, USD is a non-counter in 2008-09, meaning it does not count toward the win total of a Division I program in regard to possible postseason berths, which SDSU has waited four years to attain. That will not be the case in 2009-10 and beyond.
Football presents the most problems. With eight Missouri Valley Football Conference games and one guarantee contest (against a major conference opponent), SDSU has only two annual openings.
At least one of those needs to be played in Brookings because, with an average attendance of 11,218 last year, home games have become irreplaceable sources of revenue. And because scheduling in that sport is done years in advance, the Jacks are basically booked through 2012, the first year that USD will be playoff eligible.
Hooking up on the hardwood - especially on the men’s side - should be easier given the 30-game schedule and the relative lack of Division I programs in the region.
For example, the SDSU men, a bottom-15 team in terms of RPI in 2007-08, have a home-and-home contract with Cal State Bakersfield that expires this season. By replacing that slot on future schedules with a home-and-home against the Coyotes, the Jacks would save on travel costs and sell many more tickets for a home date.
The situation is more complex in women’s basketball since SDSU - by virtue of qualifying for the WNIT two years in a row - has earned the right to be selective in its scheduling.
This year’s home docket includes Wisconsin, Oregon and Utah, schools that are both attractive to fans and good for the team’s national ranking. USD is not yet in a position to help the latter.
Of course, the Jacks may opt not to play USD in any major sport during its transition since, for a variety of reasons, the two did not meet while SDSU was reclassifying. Some feel the non-scheduling has elements of a “payback” mentality stemming from Brookings.
Although Oien does not make the schedules, he approves them and requires that coaches be able to justify their decisions in terms of finances, RPI, student-athlete experience and the long-term situation.
“If we can come to something that is mutually beneficial financially for both situations, I don’t think there’s any doubt” that the schools will meet again, he said. “And I think it will be fun when that day comes again. But as I think everybody recognizes, from a scheduling standpoint, Division I is different than II.”
That’s an area where there exists some common ground.
“I would certainly expect we’re going to have conversations in the future,” Nielsen said. “Those conversations will start with looking at what makes sense in terms of how often we play and where we play. Then the conversations will move forward.”
By Terry Vandrovec & Mick Garry
Sioux Falls Argus-Leader