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Jeff Kolpack, Published February 12 2013

Summit League hopes to retain automatic bid for NCAA baseball tourney

FARGO – The Summit League baseball membership is straddling a line to retain its automatic qualifying status for the NCAA baseball tournament. But commissioner Tom Douple said the league isn’t in imminent danger of losing it.

The Summit currently has five baseball-tournament-eligible programs in North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, Western Illinois and Oakland. Nebraska-Omaha won’t finish its NCAA reclassification until 2016.

Concern? Perhaps. But Douple said the Summit has already been granted a two-year grace period with an option for a waiver for the following year by the NCAA Championships committee.

“We have a plan in place that we can show them this is where we stand and here’s what we’re looking at in the future,” Douple said.

Douple is no stranger to the process; he serves on the NCAA Championships administrative committee. It met Tuesday in Indianapolis to review these same issues.

Two schools that had potential to be Summit affiliate members – Northern Colorado and North Dakota – joined the Western Athletic Conference. Both are members of the Big Sky Conference for most sports, but the Big Sky does not sponsor baseball.

Asked about UND and baseball affiliation with the Summit, Douple said it was “discussed among some members” but “(UND)

hadn’t indicated anything.”

“I know they were looking for a home for baseball, that was obvious because they joined the Big Sky,” Douple said.

UND head coach Jeff Dodson, however, told the Grand Forks Herald newspaper, “We had applied for the Summit but I never heard anything personally from them.”

Douple said Northern Colorado was discussed more on a league-wide basis.

“One of the concerns with Northern Colorado was the distance. It scared some of our members to add them as an affiliate,” Douple said.

Leagues straddling the AQ minimum in certain sports is not uncommon, Douple said. The Horizon League, for instance, has five baseball-playing members.

“Most are in sports like men’s tennis, wrestling or a lacrosse league,” he said.

NDSU head coach Tod Brown said he’s not in a position to judge whether the Summit AQ is in jeopardy, saying he’s leaving those decisions to administrators.

“The reason I’m not overly concerned is because it’s not immediate,” he said. “From everything I understand, the commissioner and athletic directors have had discussions and will implement something if it were to occur.”

There were eight baseball-playing schools when NDSU joined the Summit in 2008. But Centenary dropped to Division III, Southern Utah went to the Big Sky and Oral Roberts went to the Southland Conference. South Dakota was added last year and Omaha came aboard this year.

“The exciting thing for us is it’s more regionalized,” Brown said. “It seems to be more of an Upper Midwest-type league. Weather is a big deal in our sport and it’s nice to play likeable competition.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.