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Sioux Falls and Minot begin Division II shift, may have NSIC implications

Bemidji State has played Minot State in football every year since 1999. BSU will open the 2009 season Aug. 27 at Chet Anderson Stadium in the annual 'Beaver Bash.' Pioneer File Photo/Eric Stromgren

The NCAA on Friday approved seven collegiate institutions to enter one-year candidacy periods for transition to Division II.

Included in the group is Minot State (N.D.) University and the University of Sioux Falls (S.D.), which could have an impact on the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in the future.

The Division II membership process includes a two-year candidacy period and at least one provisional year before institutions are granted active membership.

Minot State athletic director Rick Hedberg said he was glad to see the NCAA approve the school's transition so that it may go forward with plans to transition its athletic department into from the NAIA to Division II.

"It's obviously a big day that way," Hedberg said. "But it's just kind of a preliminary step for all the things that have to happen yet."

During its transition period, Minot State will remain an active member of the Dakota Athletic Conference.

Hedberg said one of the school's plans during the transition is to find a new conference.

The closest Division II league to Minot State is the 14-team Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. Bemidji State competes in the NSIC, which expanded from 10 teams last season.

Rumors have recently circulated about Minot State's and Sioux Falls' interest in joining the NSIC through expansion.

The NSIC's member university presidents tabled expansion talks in June.

"Those teams would be a geographic fit but we are already at 14 teams," Bemidji State football coach Jeff Tesch said. "We're already not playing every team in the conference season each season and there would be a lot more we wouldn't see if that (expansion) happened."

Bemidji State's football team has played Minot State in non-conference play each season since 1999.

Bemidji State men's basketball coach Matt Bowen has expressed interest in expansion for basketball purposes as two eight-team divisions would make for easier scheduling of non-conference games.

Bemidji State athletic director Rick Goeb is aware expansion has the potential of creating eight-team divisions in all NSIC sports.

He said there are two main arguments in creating divisions. One thought is expansion and a two-division alignment would save travel costs. The other thought is if expansion is not approved, those travel-related costs would still exist because of travel necessary to play in non-conference games.

"I've heard both arguments and they are very valid," Goeb said. "I think what it comes down to at the end of the day ... the presidents are going to base, in my opinion, a lot their decision on budget - does it save the conference money? Is it good for the conference economically?"

The NSIC university presidents meet again in September.

"It's controversial, I'll tell you that," Goeb said. "Right now the NSIC's stance and the commissioner's stance is that we're not looking at expanding today ... In the future, they may very well be considered."

With expansion talks on hold, Hedberg said Minot State must wait and see what happens during the three-year transition process.

"The reason they have this candidacy period is to find out if this is the right thing for us as an institution and whether we're right for them," Hedberg said. "We still need to get ... into a conference. We've still got a lot of bridges to cross and decisions to make there before this is a done deal."

Others schools who were accepted into the Division II transitional period on Friday include Simon Fraser University (British Columbia), William Jewel College (Mo.), Notre Dame College (Cleveland, Ohio), Cedarville (Ohio) University and the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

The Associated Press and The Dickinson Press of Forum Communications Company contributed to this report.