Sioux Falls to host Summit tournaments

Jason Mann

Jason Mann

A mere three years after beginning the highly criticized transition to NCAA Division I athletics, the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits will be hosting their conference’s basketball tournaments during the school’s first year of post-season eligibility.

On June 27, the Summit League announced that their 2009 and 2010 conference tournaments will be played in Sioux Falls, S.D., four days before SDSU became an official member of the league. This means that the SDSU men’s and women’s basketball teams will only have to travel 54.3 miles to try their luck at winning a bid to the Big Dance for the first time in the school’s history.

“Ever since I was little I’ve wanted to play in an NCAA tournament,” said Anthony Cordova, a freshman forward for the Jacks. Cordova grew up in Sioux Falls and graduated from Roosevelt High School. He is excited about playing not only for SDSU’s home fans, but also for the same crowd that cheered him on during his high school career.

Now that 18 of SDSU’s 21 varsity sports are members of the Summit League, the athletic department is stepping up to the challenge of the Summit Plan. It calls for all members to have three full-time basketball coaches for both the men’s and women’s teams, a requirement SDSU has already met and plans to exceed during the next five years with the addition of a fourth coach to each team.

The Summit Plan also calls for each member school to increase its own Ratings Percentage Index, which would help increase Summit’s RPI. Scott Nagy, head coach of the men’s basketball team, said that both programs are working at reaching that goal when scheduling competitions. In terms of RPI, it is better for SDSU to play a team with a high RPI and lose than to play a team with a low RPI and win.

“It will definitely impact us in a positive way,” said Nagy.

Nagy and women’s head basketball coach Aaron Johnston said that getting into the Summit League has both of their teams excited to play against tougher competition and for the possibility of March Madness. Both coaches believe that SDSU will start developing rivalries it has not seen since the days of D-II now that the school is in the Summit League.

Another requirement of the Summit Plan is that each school offers live web-streaming of games. Johnston believes this will mean a lot for fan support. Many students and fans and players’ families are not able to go to the long-distance away games, but with web-streaming they can still be part of the action.

Joining a conference after just three years as a D-I team is a big deal. Accomplishing the feat means a lot to athletic director Fred Oien, and the decision to play the Summit League’s championships in Sioux Falls just validates what he knew in 2002. A report issued by Carr Sports Associates, a consulting firm in Florida, in February 2002 titled “Considerations for Division I Athletics at South Dakota State University” didn’t offer much hope. Many doubted that the move would be positive, and some were even angry that the school continued with the transition after such a bleak prediction. But the athletic department was resolute with their D-I plan, and now have the chance to revel in their success.

“This just shows that we don’t need to underestimate ourselves,” said Oien. “It validates what our coaches have believed in.”

The Summit League isn’t just good for the Athletic Department, either-SDSU as a whole benefits in a big way. Playing in a conference championship, let alone winning it, earns team name recognition on a national scale. Both the men’s and women’s tournaments will be aired on one of the ESPN channels, letting the whole world see what’s happening in Sioux Falls and at South Dakota State University.

“This is a great opportunity for the state of South Dakota, SDSU and the student body,” said Alex Brown, 2007-2008 Student’s Association president. “With the Summit League tournaments being hosted in Sioux Falls, it gives our students an opportunity to see a lot of our conference competition that they might not see during the year. With the Jacks being eligible for post-season play that year, I have a feeling that SDSU students will get the chance to cheer our Jacks as they play against some of the best in the nation.”

The basketball teams won’t be the first from SDSU to compete in the post-season. The NCAA gave SDSU permission to have two sports, wrestling and volleyball, eligible for post-season play two years earlier than all of the school’s others. The wrestling team, which is one of three sports not a member of the Summit League, was eligible during the 2006-07 season and saw success as Ryan Meyer qualified for the sport’s Division I championships after placing second in the 165-pound category at the NCAA West Regional competition. Volleyball was eligible for post-season play during 2006-07 as well but didn’t advance to the tournament. The other two sports that are not part of the Summit League are football and equestrian.