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Jamestown's potential homes differ greatly

Editor's Note: This is the last of a three-part series on the future of Jamestown College athletics that appeared in The Dickinson Press this week.

JAMESTOWN -- The two new potential homes for Jamestown College athletics are taking two different approaches.

Jamestown College is considering the Frontier Conference, which like the Jimmies' current home -- the Dakota Athletic Conference -- is a member of the NAIA, and the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, an NCAA Division III league. The primary difference between the two is scholarships: the NAIA offers them, Division III does not.

The Frontier Conference is in the midst of robust expansion, while the UMAC is proceeding cautiously to growing, commissioner Corey Borchardt says.

Frontier Conference commissioner Kent Paulson has already pulled off a coup in Phase I of his league's expansion.

Paulson and the Frontier Conference were never out to "vacuum up" schools as he put it. But by adding Dickinson State and Southern Oregon, the league will have 11 members beginning in 2012-13, though just eight of those schools play football. The league does not have baseball and softball.

Still, Paulson is continuing with his ambitious plans and hopes Jamestown College is a part of it.

"We have a tremendous amount of respect for (athletic director) Lawrie Paulson and president (Robert) Badal and we realize they have a lot of things to consider and iron out," Kent Paulson said of Jamestown College. "Obviously, we've had a lot of great dialogue and swapped a lot of ideas with them. I personally think they would be a great fit for our conference both academically and athletically.

"We're letting them go at the speed with which they are comfortable and in the end I hope everything works out for them to join the Frontier Conference. I think it would be a win-win situation for everybody."

The primary hurdle for Jamestown College, of course, is distance. Outside of DSU, no other school is closer than 515 miles.

A way around that could be splitting the conference into East and West divisions, or limiting the especially long trips -- say to Southern Oregon or Montana-Western -- to once every three years, or utilizing other creative scheduling techniques, such as two schools meeting at a neutral site and playing.

Paulson hopes to expand the Frontier to 10 schools that play football, which would automatically guarantee two spots in the NAIA national tournament, and 12 in basketball and volleyball, which would ensure at least two automatic bids.

Menlo College in California and former DAC member South Dakota Mines are on the Frontier's radar. Mines left the DAC to go NCAA Division II, but unlike Black Hills State -- another former DAC school -- Mines has yet not found a D-II home, and they are running out of time and options.

"For us, it was never about raiding other conferences to benefit ourselves. We always wanted to be a good neighbor and as things have turned out, we're in a good position to do that," Kent Paulson said. "We're hopeful things play out in a positive way for everybody because I think if things were to fall right, the Frontier Conference would be the premier conference in the NAIA."

The UMAC was formerly an NAIA affiliated conference, but in 2002-03 formally became a member of Division III. It was a no-brainer of sorts, because even though they were in the NAIA, the UMAC was the lone NAIA league that did not offer scholarships, so the transition to Division III on that front was an easy one.

Also, with six of its eight full members located in Minnesota, going D-III made sense from a branding standpoint. Minnesota is home to well-known D-III schools like St. John's and Concordia College among others.

"As we look back, clearly for us, this was the right move," said Borchardt, who was appointed as the UMAC's commissioner in 2008. "We're surrounded by some of the premier Division III institutions in the country. It has helped us tremendously in recruiting. There's no question about that."

Borchardt pointed out that the UMAC is not actively recruiting in terms of expanding. In fact, he said that for the first time in eight years, they are only now taking applications. But, he did concede that Jamestown College is the type of school that would fit their profile.

"Athletically, they're appealing because they have an extensive sport offering like our conference does, and they've been very successful," he said. "Academically, in terms of ACT entrance statistics and data to graduation and retention, they also would align very well in our conference.

"Clearly, they offer a lot of positives both academically and athletically."

Jamestown College, however, would be the lone North Dakota school in either the UMAC or the MIAC, although Presentation College in Aberdeen, S.D., is in the UMAC, and the Jimmies have traditionally played a handful of D-III schools in a variety of sports.

So the ball is effectively in Jamestown College's court. They appear to have two viable alternatives, each with significant challenges that need to be worked out.

Both commissioners understand it is a big decision and are letting the process unfold at Jamestown College's pace.

"It's certainly a very important decision and I think we have to let them take the time they need to come to whatever conclusion they feel is best," Borchardt said.

Kent Paulson agreed.

"You don't want anybody to feel like you're applying pressure or tightening the screws," he said. "I'm confident they know that our door is open to them. Hopefully, in the end, everything works out for them to walk in."

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