So, I’ll be honest with you, this was a discussion I got into at a bar with a buddy the other day. When we began talking about Minot State’s move to NCAA Division II and why Dickinson State is really taking a “thanks but no thanks” approach to making the same move.
Then, the discussion turned to the Dakota Athletic Conference and how Minot State’s potential departure affects it. Then, we began talking about how Black Hills State and South Dakota Mines have expressed interest in making the jump to D-II. Then, oh yeah, that’s right, Valley City State is adding sports, which may be a thinly veiled nod-and-wink saying that they’d like to make the same exploration. Oh, and if Valley goes and Minot goes, what’s stopping Jamestown College from doing the same?
Where does that leave DSU if all that happens within the next decade? Well, up that old proverbial creek without a paddle.
So, we started talking about what DSU would do if all their conference rivals — teams they’ve faced for several years — decided that they were done with the NAIA and wanted to make the move to the supposed greener pastures of the NCAA’s Division II?
Well, my suggestion was, you follow suit. That is really NOT what DSU wants to do but there may come a time when it not only become necessary but imperative if it wants its athletics to survive financially.
Still, everything hinges on getting into a conference, right? Well like any two people sitting at a table in a bar, we solved a problem in minutes that would take administrators months to figure out.
Here’s the breakdown:
— Minot State and Sioux Falls are on their way out the door and want into the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, which hasn’t PUBLICLY decided if it wants to expand to 16 teams or not yet.
— Black Hills State, South Dakota Mines and Morningside are all supposedly looking into a move to D-II.
— Dickinson State, Valley City State and Jamestown College supposedly aren’t interested in a D-II move, at least publicly. But, if Minot, Hills and Mines all say they’re on the way out, then things could get interesting.
— Some NSIC schools (Minnesota State Moorhead, Minnesota-Crookston) are not competitive enough within their conference in some of the main revenue sports.
— Mayville State and Dakota State probably wouldn’t survive a jump to Division II, for both financial and competitive reasons. But they could have options to stay in the NAIA, especially Dakota State because of their location.
So, with that in mind, here’s the conference affiliations we formulated. Take into consideration, this is just two guys talking and there is about a million-to-1 shot that this would EVER go through and get approved by the Presidents, athletic directors and school officials who make those kids of decisions.
New Conference (10 teams)
University of Mary
Minnesota State Moorhead
Black Hills State
South Dakota Mines
Valley City State
Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (12 teams)
Minnesota State Mankato
St. Cloud State
Southwest Minnesota State
Now, what this does is it creates not only geographic, but competitively similar conferences. Teams in the “New Conference” (NC) would be able to compete against teams in the NSIC in nonconference games only. Right now, the only comparison I can think of is the Big 12 to the Mountain West Conference. Mountain West teams could beat teams in the Big 12. But, the Big 12 is still thought of as a stronger conference, and for good reason. Still, there’s nothing stopping teams from the NC from running the table and being ranked as highly as any team in the NSIC or any other conference in Division II.
The NC is still going to have good teams that could be nationally competitive in many sports, but it would take some time for them to get to the level of the NSIC (at least as a whole), which has established itself as one of the premier conferences in D-II since the demise of the North Central Conference.
Putting former DAC teams with the likes of MSUM, Mary, Bemidji State and Crookston
not only pairs them with teams they’d be able to compete well with in nearly every sport immediately, it also makes sense travel-wise. The only real long-distance traveling would be from the Black Hills schools (BHSU and Mines) and the Northern Minnesota teams (Bemidji State, Minnesota-Crookston). Still, it’s not all that much further for them than some of their previous DAC or NSIC opponents would have been.
Competitively, we really liked what we came up with as far as the NC. Bemidji State and Mary have proved they can be competitive with some of the top teams in the NSIC’s revenue sports. MSUM and Crookston, not so much lately. However, they all really struggle trying to keep pace with some of the top teams and would probably welcome an opportunity at more winning in what could be, at the start at least, a weaker conference.
This scenario also helps the NSIC incorporate Sioux Falls and Morningside (schools in cities the conference is purportedly foaming at the mouth to get more of a chunk out of) and also keep traveling to somewhat of a minimum. The offshoots remain, of course, but the bulk of the schools are still together and the competitiveness would be just as good, if not better, than it would be as a 14- or 16-team conference.
Like I said before, it also sets up natural nonconference matchups for many teams, as well as be good for sports like cross country and track, where teams would have several options for meets within a decent proximity.
Another idea I had just moment ago was that, in the NC, 5 of the schools sponsor wrestling (8 of the 12 in the NSIC do). All but S.D. Mines sponsor softball, the lone baseball holdouts are MSUM, S.D. Mines and Black Hills State (and baseball amongst the rest is pretty good) and, after Valley City State adds track and cross country, only Minnesota-Crookston would be without it.
Ahh yes, what about Dakota State and Mayville State? There’s always the Great Plains Athletic Conference or Independent status. If the GPAC, one of the most powerful conferences in the NAIA, loses both of its powerhouses in Sioux Falls and Morningside, they’ll probably want new teams to take their places.
Again, all this is simply bar talk. Two guys just sitting around solving people’s problems for them.
Postscript … My friend brought up a great point that has been resonating with me since our conversation. … “Why build a $16 million stadium if you’re not going to go at least look into Division II?” I agree. Why not? What is it going to hurt?