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Dave Selvig / Forum Communications Co., Published July 05 2010

DAC: 5 remaining schools in tough spot

The five remaining schools in the Dakota Athletic Conference find themselves wedged between a rock and a hard place.

With Minot State, Black Hills State and South Dakota Mines jumping ship for Division II after the upcoming school year, Jamestown College, Dickinson State, Mayville State, Valley City State and Dakota State face the real possibility of losing their automatic bid into NAIA national tournaments.

In order to automatically qualify for national tournaments, a conference must have six schools.

Basketball, football, baseball, softball and volleyball are the most affected sports.

Teams from the northern tier of the country often struggle to climb high enough in the top 25 poll to earn an at-large bid, which is another way to secure an automatic bid into the national tournament.

The erosion of the former DAC-10 has not been some clandestine operation by the schools leaving. The possibility has been known and the five left behind have been working behind the scenes for a solution.

“We’ve known this was brewing for a while,” said Mayville State athletic director Mike Moore. “We’ve been mulling things over and trying to form a plan of attack in terms of what our next move is.”

A number of options have already been exhausted.

In May, the DAC made a formal proposal to the Great Plains Athletic Conference to consider expanding and allow the five schools to form what would have amounted to an 18-team super conference.

The GPAC currently has 13 schools located in South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska, although that number will drop to 12 after the upcoming season with Sioux Falls transitioning to Division II.

Geographically, it was the logical and best home for the remaining DAC programs, but that request was rejected by GPAC presidents, who like their current setup and prefer faith-based institutions. Jamestown College would qualify on that front, but the other four would not.

“As a group we made contact with the GPAC and asked for them to consider expansion, but we were denied,” said DAC commissioner LaVern Jessen. “That was their prerogative, so we went back to the drawing board.”

The DAC has sent out feelers in recent years to a number of schools that would seem to be a good fit, with the primary factor being geography.

Minnesota-Crookston has struggled mightily at the Division II level since making the move from the NAIA in 1998, but they remain steadfast in their desire to stay put.

Minnesota-Morris and Presentation College (S.D) – both Division III members – have been approached, but both seem content where they are.

Trinity Bible College, located in Ellendale, N.D., is believed to have interest in making the leap up to the NAIA from the National Christian College Athletic Association. But they currently have just four men’s teams and three women’s programs and their struggles in each, particularly football, is well chronicled. If a move up were ever to take place, it would likely be several years away.

“We haven’t been sitting around playing tiddlywinks while all of this unfolded,” said outgoing Dickinson State athletic director Roger Ternes. “We’ve examined a lot of scenarios, the problem is there aren’t a lot of great options out there at this point.”

So for the immediate future they hope to get a break from the NAIA.

The conference is seeking a waiver to be allowed to go forward as a five-team conference, foregoing the six-team requirement. However, it is believed that no such exception has ever been granted.

Even if it were to be, it would surely be on a short-term basis, say two or three years. So even if the can gets kicked down the road a little longer, a long term solution is needed.

Moore would like to see the NAIA get involved.

“We understand the NAIA does not want to be dictating to other institutions and telling people what to do, but I’d like to see them be a little more aggressive on our behalf,” Moore said. “We’ve been a strong, viable conference for a very long time. Nothing is going to be gained if we float into the abyss.”

The remaining five schools do remain committed to the NAIA, meaning a move to Division II would only be considered if everything completely falls apart.

“It all comes back to what kind of experience we can provide our student-athletes,” Moore said. “As a group, our best and most viable option is to stay where we are. There is some uncertainty about how we make this whole puzzle fit together. Hopefully we can find the right answer.”


Dave Selvig is the sports editor for the Jamestown (N.D.) Sun