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Jamestown has reached critical fork in road

Editor's Note: This is the first in a three-part series on the future of Jamestown College athletics that will appear in The Dickinson Press this week. Today's installment is a column focusing on what options the school has in front of it.

For more than a year now, Jamestown College officials have been trying to determine what the right athletic fit for them is as they determine where they go next.

Little has changed over the last year, in terms of concrete decisions, but unlike a year ago when the Dakota Athletic Conference began to unravel, Jamestown College does now appear to have a few viable alternatives.

Currently, Jamestown College is in its final season in the DAC, but with just four schools -- Jamestown, Valley City State, Mayville State an Dickinson State -- the league does not have the required number of schools (six) to earn an automatic bid into national tournaments, and thus are essentially NAIA independents.

Coaches and administrators were able to recruit and schedule this year with considerable success, but that figures to get harder in the future.

After the 2011-12 season, the DAC will dissolve, meaning Jamestown, Valley City State and Mayville State will become full fledged independents. DSU will move into the Montana-based Frontier Conference in all sports in 2012-13.

That's where things stand now. Where they go next is uncertain, but Jamestown continues to seek a solution, and unlike a year ago, they appear to have legitimate options.

The preferred destination from the get-go was relocating to the Great Plains Athletic Conference, but GPAC presidents were steadfast in their opposition to expansion, somewhat mystifyingly considering in the last two years they've lost two schools -- Sioux Falls University (NCAA Division II) and Dana College (closed) -- and adding Jamestown College would have boosted the league's total back up to 11.

However, the distance between Jamestown and the majority of GPAC schools was deemed too great by GPAC members, even though the Jimmies fit the league's profile in virtually every other academic and athletic way.

Jamestown also, for the third time in the last 12 years, examined the merits of NCAA Division II, but that was eliminated as an option quickly.

With the GPAC and D-II out of the equation, the two remaining conference options are opposites in many ways.

The Frontier Conference -- where the Blue Hawks are landing -- has indicated a strong desire to lure Jamestown College west, which would also mean continuing in the scholarship-based NAIA. The hurdle, however, is distance.

There are six Montana schools, but the closest -- Rocky Mountain College in Billings -- is about 500 miles away. The league also has two football-only teams in Oregon, and one full member in both Utah and Idaho.

Also, the Frontier does not have baseball, softball or wrestling, so those teams would essentially remain independent. However, beginning in 2012-13 the league will have 11 conference members -- Jamestown College would be the 12th -- further solidifying it as one of the premier conferences in the NAIA.

The other option is going east to the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, or UMAC, an NCAA Division III league that does not offer scholarships but geographically may be more palatable than the Frontier.

The UMAC has a similar offering to what Jamestown currently has, but there are no scholarships.

So, the appearance could be that Jamestown is taking a step down, though the D-III brand is strong in the Upper Midwest. Plus, the programs most people associate with when hearing D-III -- Concordia College (Moorhead, Minn.), St. John's, Augsburg, St. Thomas, Bethel -- compete in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, aka MIAC.

A third, and less attractive option, would be remaining an NAIA independent. Nobody in my many discussions prefers this. It stresses schedule-makers and would make it increasingly difficult to lure top-level athletes because ultimately, as one deep-pocketed booster said, "What would we be playing for? The teams-that-can't-find-a-home title?"

In coming installments of this series, Jamestown College president Dr. Robert Badal assesses the current lay of the land, while some alumni are urging the school to make a decision, sooner rather than later. The commissioner's of the GPAC and UMAC also discuss their conferences and what the future may hold as it pertains to Jamestown College.

The bottom line is that the school has options, and plans to make a decision either late this year or early in 2012, which by anyone's estimation is a good thing.

Selvig is the sports editor of The Jamestown Sun, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.