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Dickinson State set to join Frontier Conference in 2012-13

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Blue Hawks Dickinson, 58602

Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Go West, Dickinson State. The Frontier is calling.

The Frontier Conference announced Tuesday that DSU and Southern Oregon University have been invited to join the league in the 2012-13 school year. Both schools received unanimous approval from the Frontier presidents at the conclusion of a two-day meeting at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont.

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DSU will join the Frontier as a full member and become the league's first member from North Dakota. Southern Oregon, in Ashland, Ore., will be an associate member in football only.

"I've said all along that this is a win-win," Frontier Commissioner Kent Paulson said. "This is a historic day in the Frontier Conference. We had a bridge to cross and, by golly, we got on the other side of the river."

DSU interim athletic director Tim Daniel was notified of the Frontier's decision by phone late Tuesday night and said DSU plans to release a statement Wednesday following the Frontier's formal invitation for the university to join the conference.

"We're not going to release anything until we get the formal, written invitation from them," Daniel said.

DSU and Southern Oregon applied to the Frontier along with Jamestown College and Menlo College (Calif.) in October. The four schools made their formal presentations of application to Frontier council of presidents in separate meetings Monday and Tuesday.

Jamestown and Menlo were not rejected, but asked to be considered at a future time.

The additions of DSU and Southern Oregon will make the Frontier an eight-team football conference.

Because both schools are perennially ranked in national polls, their additions should make the Frontier -- home of six-time national champion Carroll College and several other prominent teams -- the NAIA's definitive football league.

"I was just excited to hear that the Frontier Conference presidents are not only committed to expansion but they're committed to bringing in a number of teams," Paulson said. "They really feel like there's strength in numbers.

"We are poised and ready to become the premier conference in the NAIA."

The Frontier will have nine teams in men's and women's basketball and volleyball with the addition of DSU. The Frontier also recently added conference affiliation for men's and women's cross country and track and field.

However, the Frontier does not offer conference affiliation for three sports in which DSU has enjoyed a multitude of success -- baseball, softball and wrestling.

Nonetheless, the announcement ends months of speculation about the future of DSU's athletic program, which was in a state of uncertainty following the sudden breakdown of the Dakota Athletic Conference last summer.

The DAC is in its final year as an eight-team league. Black Hills State, Minot State and South Dakota Mines are leaving the NAIA to become members of NCAA Division II. Dakota State will become an NAIA independent.

In the 2011-12 season, the DAC will be a four-team league with DSU, Jamestown, Mayville State and Valley City State. DAC Commissioner Lavern Jessen has told The Dickinson Press that if any of the four teams were to leave the DAC, it will likely mean the end of the conference.

As the DAC began crumbling around DSU, the university's officials believed its future in the NAIA hinged on picking up stakes and heading West to the Frontier.

While DSU's acceptance into the league was uncertain heading into the day, it will no doubt allow its athletic programs to breathe a sigh of relief.

"I was kind of surprised," Daniel said.

Jamestown, on the other hand, remains in waiting.

Jamestown athletic director Lawrie Paulson said his school's stance has always been that it cannot join the Frontier without other schools from the Dakotas joining as well.

Mayville State and Valley City State were asked to submit membership applications to the Frontier last August, but did not.

"If all the schools in North Dakota were to look at it, if we had multiple schools to the East who would look at it and we could do this together, so we would be primarily North Dakota -- just like we've always been saying -- then it's something that we'd be interested in," Lawrie Paulson said. "But there's a lot of things that would have to happen before we can say that that's in our future."

He said DSU's acceptance into the Frontier will likely force the remaining DAC schools to begin making choices about their own futures.

"That kind of forces all of us that are still on the outside looking in to make some decisions." Lawrie Paulson said.

Kent Paulson said the Frontier may still be open to expansion.

"I'm going to go out on a limb and say that before 2012 hits we may have already added some other teams," he said.

Billings (Mont.) Gazette sports reporter Bill Bighaus contributed to this story.

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