NCC likely to end after 2007-08 school year

FARGO, N.D. -- The North Central Conference, which has been losing teams over the past two years, is preparing to fold.

"You can't have a conference unless you have teams," commissioner Roger Thomas said. "Teams were very content to stay in the region they are at, and we couldn't convince any schools to join our league. We'll do everything we can to help our remaining schools as they search for what's best for them."

Thomas said the league will likely play its final games after the 2007-08 school year.

The NCAA Division II conference, once a national power, has been losing members since North Dakota State University left for Division I and Morningside moved to the NAIA in 2004.

The University of North Dakota announced in June that it will move to Division I in all sports and Augustana (S.D.) announced this month that it is looking at the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

The University of South Dakota's announcement Wednesday that it is moving to Division I was the final blow for the NCC, leaving the league with four members after 2007-08. A league must have six members to be recognized by the NCAA and get an automatic bid to national tournaments.

Thomas, a former North Dakota athletic director, said the league is a victim of its own success.

"The schools have used the NCC to grow and become great programs. It's hard to see all the tradition and stuff not be there anymore," he said. "But we have a bunch of memories."

Thomas said he hopes to celebrate the North Central's 57 years in the NCAA during the league's final season.

Northern Sun commissioner Butch Raymond said Wednesday that current NCC members St. Cloud State, Minnesota State Mankato and Minnesota-Duluth have asked for information about the Northern Sun.

Nebraska-Omaha, the other remaining NCC member, has begun preliminary discussions with the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

The addition of St. Cloud, Mankato and Duluth would increase the Northern Sun's membership to 14 teams. Current NSIC member Minnesota-Crookston is studying a possible move to the NAIA or Division III.

Raymond said he does not expect a decision on Crookston's future until January. He said he hopes to get official applications from interested schools by Jan. 1. Thomas expects to receive notice of the departures of remaining NCC schools by the end of December.

Northern Sun members are Minnesota State Moorhead, Winona (Minn.) State, Wayne (Neb.) State, Southwest Minnesota State, Minnesota-Crookston, Northern State (S.D.), Concordia-St. Paul, Upper Iowa, Bemidji (Minn.) State and the University of Mary of Bismarck.

"We're going to be busy," Raymond said. "But when you are dealing with first-class institutions like Augustana, and if any of those other schools want to get in the mix, you are working with a good situation. We are very proud of where the NSIC is right now."