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Jacks tab UND for last 2010 opening
SDSU, USD still open to renewing football rivalry
South Dakota State got what it was looking for - and probably more - in landing a home game to round out its 2010 football schedule.
The school announced Friday that it will host the University of North Dakota on Nov. 20, the finale of an 11-game regular season.
Jackrabbit athletic officials view the home-and-home deal - SDSU will visit Grand Forks in 2013 - as a successful end to a long and difficult process. They got a fifth home date at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium against a fellow Football Championship Subdivision opponent - vital in terms of playoff possibilities - that should be a decent draw considering the two were longtime North Central Conference foes.
However, some fans figured to be disappointed that the opponent isn’t the University of South Dakota. The state’s largest schools haven’t met since 2004, when the Jackrabbits made the jump to the NCAA Division I level. The Coyotes have since followed and finalized their 11-game docket in December. It includes a contest at North Dakota State - UND’s bitter rival - and a void on Nov. 20.
What’s more, UND is in the final stages of a long and contentious battle over its logo and nickname. Some schools won’t even play the Fighting Sioux until the issue is resolved.
SDSU was well aware of both concerns and still had few qualms about completing the contract.
“It became an option we had to look at,” Jacks athletic director Justin Sell said. “Given the nature of scheduling challenges, we felt it was the right time to move on it.”
SDSU had been trying to line up a season-opening home game for Sept. 4, a date that’s more conducive to overflow crowds and would allow for a week off between the end of the regular season and start of a potential second straight playoff berth.
Senior associate athletic director Rob Peterson, who handles football scheduling, said that he had serious negotiations with roughly 20 schools and even had a verbal agreement in place with one from the East Coast, in which the Jacks would have paid out a handsome guarantee. But that fell through two weeks ago.
By then, USD was booked. FCS teams are allowed to schedule only 11 regular-season games for 2010.
“For a variety of reasons, we really didn’t want to play (anybody) on Nov. 20,” Sell said. “We’ve had conversations about resuming the rivalry and when we can fit it in. (Outgoing USD athletic director) Joel Nielsen and I have had great conversations - for us that hasn’t been a contentious issue. We’ve had very open discussion on how to make that happen, and when it happens, it’ll be good for the state.”
Added Nielsen: “Justin and I talked a little about the open date, but the discussions didn’t go much further than that. At the time, they were really concentrating on filling that Sept. 4 date, and all indications were that they were going to fill it. When we had the NDSU game offered to us, we decided we were going to take that to fill out our schedule.”
Although talks between the Jackrabbits and UND had happened on and off for months, the agreement materialized in the past few days, according to Sell, accelerated by the news that the school will retire its Fighting Sioux logo and nickname - deemed hostile and abusive by the NCAA - by Nov. 30.
Some schools, such as Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, have had policies in place preventing them from playing UND in non-conference games as long as the nickname controversy was unresolved. The Summit League has taken a similar stance on considering the Sioux for membership.
Although the Jacks have previously scheduled UND in other sports, Sell met with academic and athletic staffers at SDSU before approving the football contract, seeking information and opinions. That included Nana Allison-Brewer, the only Native American head coach in Division I volleyball.
“It’d be great if we could have held off,” she said, “but I think Justin has done a great job of being proactive and using this as an educational opportunity. It’s a bigger issue than just sports.”
Likewise, the football schedule is about more than one game.
Coming off its first postseason bid in 30 years, SDSU will open the 2010 season at perennial FCS power Delaware before taking on the University of Nebraska - a potential top-10 team in the Football Bowl Subdivision - on Sept. 25 and Missouri Valley Football Conference opponents down the stretch.
The Jacks will travel to North Dakota State and host UND - both longtime former North Central Conference foes - in consecutive weeks to close the regular season.
Traditionally, SDSU has had its schedule completed much earlier than this, speaking to the fact that it’s become more difficult to find non-conference foes amid rising travel costs and recent success. The Jacks have won at least seven games in each of the past four seasons, finishing 11th in the FCS national polls last year.
Having to settle for a Division II opponent would have been a serious blow to the team’s postseason chances as wins against lower-level clubs don’t count toward the seven required to become playoff eligible.
All things considered, SDSU feels good about the final piece of the scheduling puzzle, regardless of public perception.
“It’ll work out sometime,” Jacks coach John Stiegelmeier said of playing USD. “There’s a time for everything, and this was not the time. … We’re going to make decisions for the welfare of the South Dakota State University football program, and that’s the decision we went with this year.”
By Terry Vandrovec
Sioux Falls Argus Leader