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Eric Peterson, Published February 07 2012

Peterson: Independent status may help DAC schools this year

Fargo - While Valley City State and Jamestown College are still associated with the Dakota Athletic Conference name, the AII is the acronym that matters most for both schools.

The AII – which stands for the Association of Independent Institutions – is now the mechanism that gives those two schools (along with Mayville State and Dickinson State) the chance to automatically qualify for the NAIA national tournament.

“Our main goals remain the same,” said Jamestown College men’s basketball coach Matt Murken. “It’s just a different avenue to get there.”

That avenue is looking like a pretty solid route for the Jimmies and Vikings as both teams near the end of their regular seasons.

Jamestown College and Valley City State are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the latest independent rankings. That means they are in solid position to qualify for the five-team AII tournament, which is scheduled for the end of the month in Madison, S.D. The teams that make the championship in that tournament both earn automatic bids for the national tournament.

In some ways, that gives the Vikings and Jimmies a better chance to advance to the NAIA Division II national tournament than when their qualifying route was the Dakota Athletic Conference. The DAC had one automatic bid that went to the DAC tournament winner.

“I think in this particular year, you could make the argument that it could possibly be easier to get in, but I think that is going to change year by year,” said Jamestown College athletic director Lawrie Paulson. “I think this is too small of a sample to say it’s easier this way than the other way.”

There are 12 men’s and 13 women’s independent teams that are eligible for the AII tournament. Host school Dakota State will get an automatic bid for both its men’s and women’s teams.

Jamestown College is also ranked No. 1 among the AII women’s teams.

So while the DAC lost its NAIA automatic bid this season after it shrunk to four teams, there is still a viable automatic-bid path to the playoffs for the basketball teams.

“That’s what we hang our hat on,” said Valley City State AD Jack Denholm. “People were a little suspect before.”

No. 17-ranked Valley City State men (20-6) and No. 10 Jamestown College play at 7:30 p.m. today in Valley City. The women’s game is set for 5:30 p.m.

The men’s teams played a classic last week. The Vikings earned a dramatic 86-83 overtime victory at Jamestown. The No. 8-ranked Jimmies women eked out a 49-47 victory.

“It was the largest crowd that we’ve had in years in the Civic Center,” Paulson said. “Loud, vocal, two close games that went down to the wire. It really was a tremendous evening. I anticipate that we’ll duplicate it over in Valley City.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com