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Heath Hotzler, Published April 06 2007

NSIC’s future still murky

As expected, the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference voted to accept Augustana, St. Cloud State, Minnesota State Mankato and Minnesota-Duluth this week.

The move made sense. It increases membership to 14, which is tied for the most in NCAA Division II, brings in great competition in every sport and it helped solidify a league that was once considered the weak little brother of the North Central Conference.

But how long will it last?

As happens in most league expansions, the four new Northern Sun members each promised to stay for at least five years or face a $50,000 penalty. On a side note, when we’re talking about athletic department budgets in the millions of dollars, $50,000 is a drop in the bucket if someone wants to bolt for greener pastures.

The point is this: The NSIC’s future is no more certain today than it was seven years ago when it played second-fiddle to the North Central.

Let’s take a look back at the small college landscape in 2000.

Back then, the NAIA’s

DAC-10 had just formed, North Dakota State and North Dakota were Division II football and women’s basketball powers, NSIC member Northern State was mulling a move to the North Central and Tim Miles was coaching Southwest Minnesota State to the D-II men’s basketball Elite Eight.

Now, the DAC is down to eight members, NDSU is at the tail end of a Division I transition, UND is headed to Division I in all sports, the North Central Conference will fold after the 2007-08 school year and Tim Miles has a D-I coaching gig at Colorado State.

Things change that quickly.

Some of the new Northern Sun schools will likely revisit the Division question in five years. It might come sooner.

Who knows, in the next five years Division I might be split into two tiers in all sports, allowing smaller schools like NDSU, UND, Mankato and St. Cloud to compete more frequently on a national level.

None of this, however, means that folks shouldn’t be excited about the new look Northern Sun.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

Odds and ends

The University of Minnesota-Crookston hired Chris Vito as its head baseball coach and assistant sports information director. An assistant baseball coach at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College in Virginia, Minn., Vito was previously head coach and sports information director at Wisconsin-Superior. … Minnesota State Moorhead’s athletic department fundraising Walk-A-Thon is scheduled for April 21. Last year’s event raised more $100,000. The goal for this year is $125,000. The Dragons will hold their spring football game on the same day. … University of Mary offensive line coach Chris Fisk has been promoted to offensive coordinator. Former offensive coordinator Bud Etzold, who battled health problems last year, will move to quarterbacks coach.

Readers can reach Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562 or hhotzler@forumcomm.com. Hotzler’s small college blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com