Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hasta la vista, NCC! 

With the departure of the University of South Dakota yesterday to Division I, the North Central Conference is no more.

"You can't have a conference unless you have teams," Commissioner Roger Thomas said. "Teams were very content to stay in the region they are at, and we couldn't convince any schools to join our league. We'll do everything we can to help our remaining schools as they search for what's best for them."

Thomas said the league likely will play its final games after the 2007-08 school year.

The NCAA Division II conference, once a national power, has been losing members since North Dakota State University left for Division I and Morningside moved to the NAIA in 2004.

The University of North Dakota announced in June that it will move to Division I in all sports and Augustana (S.D.) announced this month that it is looking at the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

St. Cloud State has played in the NCC since the 1970s, formerly part of the Northern Sun. All three of the Minnesota schools currently in the NCC -- SCSU, MSU-Mankato and Minnesota-Duluth -- have asked about joining NSIC. Its commissioner, Butch Raymond, came to SCSU the same year I did and coached 13 seasons here, retiring as its winningest basketball coach and joining the school's Hall of Fame last year. I hear from some people that he and athletic director Morris Kurtz did not end on a high note when Raymond left the university, but I also note the same people are those who are clamoring for us to jump to Division I with USD, UND, NDSU and Northern Colorado. Most of them fear that the quality of football played here will deteriorate.

It may, but the cost of taking that program to Division I, especially when we chose to build a 4,200 seat stadium only a few years ago, may just be too high. The Dakota schools have stadia much, much larger. We have never had the same number of scholarships those schools have had, and the move to D-I would increase the number required, at least in the long run (you can have transition rules in a new conference, and some would like to reform the NCC as a D-I conference.) Winona State, last year's D-II basketball champion (and slayer of the Univ. of Minnesota in an exhibition game earlier this month) plays in the NSIC, and we already play many of those teams in basketball now.

It is nevertheless difficult for a program to go backwards, and that is how a return to the Northern Sun will seem to longtime Huskies fans.