DI move impossible without conference

Justin R. Lessman

Justin R. Lessman

If SDSU does not have a pre-determined Division I conference in place when the Board of Regents accepts or rejects the proposed move in December, the university will not move, regardless of the decision, SDSU Athletic Director Fred Oien said.

“It’s simple,” Oien said. “We are not going to move unless we have a conference.”

SDSU is currently a member of the North Central Conference for athletics. The league, founded in the early 1920s, experienced its first membership shift in nearly two decades when Morningside College moved to Division III after the 2001-2002 season.

Almost immediately after Morningside’s announcement, SDSU, along with NDSU and Northern Colorado, expressed interest in moving the opposite way to DI-AA.

Assuming this three-school switch, the NCC would be left with just seven.

At this point, both NDSU and Northern Colorado appear to be able and well on their way to make a move to DI. SDSU’s fate will be decided at the Dec. 13 meeting of the BOR in Rapid City.

But, unless these three schools can form a whole new conference, SDSU must become part of another existing one.

“I don’t think we (SDSU) want to be left in a conference with no resemblance to what it is now,” said Dana Dykhouse, chairman of the SDSU Foundation. “The benefit to the university for moving to Division I and to a new conference extends well beyond athletics.”

According to the feasibility report completed by Carr Sports Associates Inc. last August, finding a new conference alliance would be one of the most difficult parts for an SDSU transition.

“Essentially, it’s us trying to sell a conference on ourselves. That involves a perfect mixture of timing, luck and salesmanship,” Oien said.

So, what are some possible conferences for SDSU to fit into?

Geographically, the nearest potential conference is the eight-member Big-Sky to the west. Its schools lie in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

Another close possibility is the Gateway Conference, to the east. The eight schools in Gateway dot Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio. However, Gateway is only a football conference. For other sports, these schools look to the Missouri Valley Conference and Horizon League for competition.

The idea of falling into one of these two conferences concerns some at the university, especially faculty members.

At the Sept. 24 meeting of the SDSU Academic Senate, numerous instructors asked about the extent of student athlete absences from class. If students have to travel to states all over the nation to play sports, they said, how much class are they going to miss?

Oien said he did not expect student athlete absences from class to pose a problem.

At that meeting, he said, “We are under the impression that students will miss at the same rates as now.”

Regardless, conference officials have repeatedly said that neither Big Sky nor Gateway is interested in new members.

Oien said he recognizes those conferences’ rights to want to stay as they are, but says SDSU will keep looking at all possibilities.

“We need to become part of a conference with universities that are like-minded as SDSU,” Oien said. “We need the other schools in our conference to be proud of the affiliation in all aspects, not just athletics. One that supports all aspects of sports including full support of women’s athletics. But, if we don’t find that one, we’re not going to move. Period.”