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MSUM president favors flexibility in face of tough economy

MOORHEAD - Edna Szymanski favors flexibility for Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference members in the face of a tough economy.

The Minnesota State Moorhead President said on Wednesday she would support changing league bylaws - regarding mandatory sports - if that helps member schools deal with budget issues.

News reports surfaced Tuesday that St. Cloud State is looking at dropping its football program as the athletic department faces a $500,000 budget shortfall. Football is one of the required men's sports to be a league member, according to NSIC league bylaws.

"Conferences tend to specify specific sports you have to play," Szymanski said. "Given the economic situation for every state in our region, except for North Dakota, we need flexibility in order to be able to react to changing economic times."

The NSIC currently requires member schools to sponsor at least 10 sports, either four for men and six for women or five each for men and women.

Basketball and either outdoor track and field or baseball are the other required men's sports.

Mandatory women's sports are volleyball, soccer, basketball, softball and either outdoor track and field or tennis.

NSIC commissioner Butch Raymond said sports sponsorship is on the agenda for the Sept. 20 meeting of NSIC presidents. Raymond said that sports sponsorship was put on the agenda in June.

"We all understand the budget crisis that many of our schools are going through," Raymond said.

St. Cloud State is looking at three options - cutting just football, cutting football and three other sports or keeping football and cutting eight sports.

"I am not going to ask 'Can we eliminate football?' It is a broader permission to do what we need to do, including the possible elimination of a mandatory sport," St. Cloud State President Earl H. Potter III told the St. Cloud Times.

Earlier this month, Minnesota State Mankato unveiled a proposal to drop four sports as part of a plan to cut up to $275,000 from its athletic department.

Raymond said he's not sure how the news that St. Cloud State is considering dropping football will affect potential conference expansion.

The 14-team league is considering adding two schools and has site visits to Minot State and the University of Sioux Falls scheduled for this fall.

"I'm sure with the uncertainty now of something like this, that just adds a little fuel to the fire. It certainly won't make anything a slam dunk deal," Raymond said.

"People might say, 'Let's expand for sure and let's get more solidarity in our sports.' ... or they might say 'We don't know what's going on, maybe we better wait and see before we go any further.' I don't know."

DICKINSON, N.D.­ -- Anything and everything will be on the table for discussion when Dakota Athletic Conference and Frontier Conference officials meet here next week.

DAC Commissioner Lavern Jessen said Thursday that presidents and athletic directors from the two conferences will meet on Wednesday, Aug. 25 at the Badlands Activities Center to discuss their potential future together in a meeting NAIA President and CEO Jim Carr also plans to attend.

While the meeting could be a preliminary step in merger talks, Jessen said officials must first decide if it is economically feasible for the two conferences to work together.

"This meeting is purely exploratory," Jessen said. "We're hoping that everyone comes in with open minds and willing to look at any possibility where we can benefit the two conferences by working together."

Beginning in the fall of 2011, the DAC will be down to just four teams: Dickinson State, Jamestown College, Mayville State and Valley City State.

The conference loses four schools after this season. Black Hills State, Minot State and South Dakota Mines are transitioning to NCAA Division II and Dakota State will switch to NAIA independent status.

Jessen said the primary focus will be on the distances teams would have to travel.

"It's a long way from Mayville to the (Frontier's) furthest, most-western school," Jessen said.

Mayville State is the eastern-most school in the DAC. Frontier Conference schools stretch from north central Montana to LaGrande, Ore.

According to the website Mapquest, it is at least 1,350 miles from Mayville State to Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, which is a football-only Frontier affiliate.

It is about 1,200 miles from Mayville to both Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, and Westminster College in Salt Lake City.

Jessen said officials plan to look at ideas for making football, men's and women's basketball and volleyball work before speaking in-depth about other sports.

"I think the focus has to be on men's and women's basketball, volleyball and football," Jessen said. "How can we develop a schedule that will mitigate the travel, so that you don't have to go out there so many times?"