Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Long Story Of The North Star Athletic Association

In April, the press reported about the formation of the North Star Athletic Association in the NAIA. It will be comprised of 6 schools: Jamestown College, Valley City State University, Dickinson State University, Dakota State University, Presentation College, and Mayville State University. Only Presentation College was not a part of the DAC-10 that dissolved in 2011.

This is a story of conference realignment, moving into the lower levels of the NCAA, and all the problems and good things that happen from that. But before all that happened, there was one thing that triggered all the disruption. A purchase of Huron University by Si Tanka University from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe which caused millions of dollars of funding to be shut off to the tribe because Native American enrollment had fallen below 50% in the colleges that the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe controlled. So, the tribe shut down Huron University, defaulted on loans of almost $7 Million and went back to their reservation having their federal money restored for having their college system having over 50% of enrollees being Native American. What they left behind shook the foundation of college sports for the NAIA in the Northern plains.

In 1897, Huron College was founded in Huron S.D. The college had two Rhodes Scholars on in 1917 and in 1932. In 1984, Huron College started it's downward spiral by being sold to other institutions of higher learning. By the time it was shut down in 2005, it had been sold 8 different times. The thing is that in the DAC-10, Huron was the big time sports school. They had history. The basketball team was feared in the conference for decades. The football team had it's high points. I remember back in the late 70's and early 80's, every other school in the conference hated playing Huron in basketball because they had kids from the big cities. Chicago, Minneapolis, and Kansas City were recruiting havens for Huron. Those kids had skills. Another thing that those kids had, black skin. No matter what is said now, back then it was very rare to see a black person in the Northern plains in the backwater sites of Huron, Mitchell, Aberdeen, Jamestown, Valley City and all points in between. I know for a fact that the college got into many fights because of those kids that came into Huron being of a different race.

Anyways, when Huron (then Si Tanka University - Huron) closed it's doors, it caused the DAC-10 to dissolve. The uncertainty that happened when the school closed caused other members of the DAC-10 to look at other options. The University of Mary decided to transfer into the NCAA Division II which went so well that the 5 year transition was shortened by two years. That was in 2006. That sparked interest in other schools deciding to become NCAA Division II schools because of the money. So Minot State, Black Hills State University and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology decided that the University of Mary transition was going so well, that the administrations wanted to get some of that big money. So all three schools transitioned into the NCAA. Black Hills State University is currently floundering in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference because of the huge costs of being a D-II school. Minot State is in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and the transition seems to be going well. For SDSM&T, the opposite is true. They have not been admitted into a conference and are having a hard time maintaining the funds needed to be a D-II school. And when you are an independent in a part of the country where the population centers are spread out, you need even more money to operate.

Dakota State, located in Madison, SD decided to become an independent NAIA school because of the long travel to any of the other DAC-10 schools, all of which were in North Dakota. That left 4 schools left in the DAC. The first one to make a move was Dickinson State University. They were accepted into the Frontier Conference of the NAIA. It was considered a step-up for athletics from the DAC-10, but Dickinson State figured out that it is expensive to take multiple teams multiple times to Southern Oregon or Salt Lake City. The Athletic Director said that they had to try and raise triple the funds for the athletic department to run somewhat effectively. The other three schools became independents because of the lack of schools in the conference.

They ran in a crowd of 6 independent schools of the NAIA. Jamestown College, Valley City State University, and Mayville State were joined by Rochester College from Michigan, Nothern New Mexico State, and Ashford University from Iowa to form a 2012-2013 only conference in the Association of Independent Institutions. Instead of traveling a hundred or two hundred miles for a game, you might have to travel 400 hundred miles up to a thousand miles to play in your "conference". The costs for Jamestown College which has 900 students total, or Valley City State which is a public institution of around 1100 students skyrocketed. I know for a fact that the increase in costs had Jamestown College debating whether or not to eliminate some sports, including their Women's Wrestling team. It is one of 14 institutions of higher learning in the nation that has a Women's Wrestling team. I am proud of that fact. Anyways, the increased costs showed the schools that they needed to do something.

Enter Presentation College from Aberdeen SD. They were a D-II NCAA school. Also in Aberdeen is Northern State University another D-II NCAA school. So in a town of 20,000, you have a private and a public D-II school. Well, that wasn't working for Presentation, so they were looking to eliminate costs. One way of doing that is to transfer into the NAIA tier of colleges for athletics. So, the three independent NAIA schools in North Dakota and Presentation College got together and started talking. Well, Dakota State was brought into the conversation once a plan was mapped out. And before you know it, there was an affiliation of 5 schools in a conference. According to NAIA bylaws, you need a conference of 6. Dickinson State enters the picture. They are obligated to play in the Frontier for the 2013-14 school year, but they will join the conference for the 2014-15 season.

In short, you have 5 members of the DAC-10 coming back together and adding Presentation College and forming an athletic conference. The dissolution of the DAC-10 has given two schools that transferred to D-II a bright future for them. Two others that transferred major problems with fundraising and competitive balance. And the other five a new appreciation of what they had before forces beyond their control drove them apart. I mourn for my home town school that is no longer. I cheer for my alma mater to be the sports force in the NSAA. But above all, I applaud all the schools in the NSAA for coming together and deciding to try and improve all their finances and prestige of the schools involved. Now if we can figure out how to get two more members, it would help the chances of this conference becoming a stable fixture for decades to come.


Zebster said...

Nice piece. I knew nothing about any of that. It does show you what the decrease in funding has done, making schools look to sports too much as the financial savior and learning hard lessons.

Brent said...

I wouldn't expect you to know any of that, it happened out here in the Dakotas where some people still think that we are fighting the Indians.

It shows how screwed up the funding of higher learning is. Administrations try to increase revenue with their sports teams because funding from the government gets cut year after year and causes less and less people to attend college. If people really wanted the economy and America to move forward with innovation and knowledge, this wouldn't be the way that college education would be heading.

Anonymous said...

Presentation was in NCAA DIII, and in the UMAC Conference, they "left" when the rest of the league told them to field teams in sports they claimed to field teams in but didn't, thus continually screwing up schedules. They were the far western outpost in that conference which goes as far East as Ashland, WI.