Kevin Schnepf, Published January 27 2008
Dakotas’ in-state rivalries on holdIt’s a sure bet that among the throngs of fans watching North Dakota State play South Dakota State in basketball this weekend, at least one Bison fan was thinking: “This rivalry is nothing like the one with the Sioux.”
And it’s a sure bet when NDSU and SDSU play in Brookings in late February, at least one Jackrabbit fan will be thinking: “This rivalry is nothing like the one with the Coyotes.”
Which begs the question: will the NDSU-UND and the SDSU-USD rivalries ever be renewed?
“At some point in time, scheduling them will make some sense,” said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor. “When does it make sense for us to play them? Right now, we don’t know.”
“I would guess it would happen at some point in time,” said Coyote men’s basketball coach Dave Boots. “But I wouldn’t put a time frame on it.”
Two of college basketball’s longest-standing rivalries came to a halt when NDSU and SDSU made the jump to Division I five years ago. The move created some hard feelings that still exist today.
Officials at NDSU and SDSU were criticized for breaking up the century-old North Central Conference. And when NDSU and SDSU were looking to fill out their schedules during the transition without a conference, schools like UND and USD turned them down.
Now, ironically, UND and USD are in the same boat as their old rivals were the previous four years. The schools from Grand Forks and Vermillion are in their first year of transition to Division I – facing the same gigantic challenges like filling out an independent schedule, upgrading recruiting and fundraising and finding a conference.
“We had to go on the road and play a lot of different opponents,” said NDSU’s Taylor. “That’s what they are facing right now. Does that mean we get into a home-and-home with them right away? Things have changed and maybe some feelings have changed.”
But there are still some hard feelings. That’s why the decision to renew the rivalries isn’t up to the coaches or even the athletic directors. They are waiting for approval from the university presidents.
“I am behind our administration 100 percent,” said NDSU men’s basketball coach Saul Phillips. “When our administration says that our athletic department will play UND, we will be the first in line.”
From scheduling and financial standpoints, it makes sense for the Bison to play UND instead of Minot State.
“What would you rather have, 8 (thousand) to 10,000 fans at a game or 1,000 … that’s a no-brainer,” said UND men’s basketball coach Brian Jones, who would love to see UND and USD join NDSU and SDSU in the Summit League.
Don’t expect that happening soon. But don’t dismiss the possibility either. After all, expansion has been an annual topic of discussion ever since Tom Douple became the Summit League commissioner seven years ago.
“There is no rush to move into anything,” Douple said. “On the other hand, I don’t want to sit around and miss out on a great fit. I think for us right now, it’s got to be the right fit … if we do it at all.”
The problem for UND and USD is they are only two of at least a dozen schools making the move to Division I. When NDSU and SDSU made the move, there were only four other schools doing the same thing.
Douple said as many as eight schools have expressed interest in joining the Summit League. But even if it were to reach the point that the Summit League would consider UND and USD, there would likely be some opposition.
Would Summit League teams want to make two trips to the Dakotas? Would NDSU and SDSU welcome their old rivals to the Summit League?
“The landscape can change so much, so you never know,” Taylor said.
And you never know, even without a conference, UND and USD could be playing their old rivals. It seems to be only a matter of time.
“Maybe in three or four more years, who knows?” said SDSU men’s basketball coach Scott Nagy. “But it’s going to happen.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or email@example.com. Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com