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Black Hills St., SD Mines exploring move to D-II

FARGO -- Mark Wiest knows if his women's basketball team wins the Dakota Athletic Conference tournament title tonight, it will earn an automatic bid to the NAIA national tournament.

The future of the DAC is not as clear.

"I think all the coaches are worried and I think all the schools involved with this are really concerned," said Wiest, the head coach at Jamestown College.

After next season, the eight-team league will shrink to seven with Minot State making the move to NCAA Division II and two more DAC schools could follow. Black Hills State and South Dakota Mines are exploring a move to NCAA Division II. They both could submit their applications as early as this summer.

"There are no guarantees that we will turn it in," said South Dakota Mines athletic director Dick Kaiser. "We may end up staying in the NAIA, and if that's the case, that's where we'll be and we will toot its horn and we will do all that we can. But, we're taking a look at our options to see what's best for our institution and athletes in the future."

If the DAC eventually dips to five teams, it won't be able to automatically qualify league winners to national competition. An NAIA conference needs to have at least six teams to have automatic bid status.

"There's great concern by the five schools that are not exploring Division II," DAC commissioner LaVern Jessen said. "We've been exploring membership for new members for quite some time and there just aren't any out there. We don't have any in close proximity."

The athletic directors and presidents from Jamestown College, Valley City State, Mayville State and Dakota State recently met in Jamestown, N.D., to discuss the DAC's future and possible options for the league moving forward.

"The positive things that came out of it are that everybody understands the sense of urgency that is there," said Jamestown College athletic director Lawrie Paulson. "It's a group of five institutions that are looking at the future and trying to figure out what's the best way to position ourselves if we were to lose membership."

Paulson said a number of options were discussed at the meeting, including the possibility of joining or creating an affiliation with another NAIA conference.

"There are ideas about anything from - Do we want to stay NAIA? Do we want to make the jump to Division II? Would we look at Division III? Would we look to add schools?" Paulson said. "There are any number of things that could be solutions and we have to look at them to see which ones are viable."

The DAC could also look to recruit schools from the NCAA level. For example, Morningside is an example of a school that moved from NCAA Division II to NAIA in recent history.

"It's curious to see what's going to take place," said Valley City State athletic director B.J. Pumroy. "The only thing I can really predict is that there are at least four North Dakota schools completely committed to each other. Beyond that, it's all speculation drawing upon hope."

Wiest said he takes some comfort in knowing school administrators are taking a hard look at the future.

"I feel really good about the people who are trying to take care of this mystery and solve it right now," Wiest said. "They're going to do what's best for the remaining schools in the DAC and that's a good thing. ... I'm glad that they're concerned about it right now. They're not waiting for another two years down the road and then, 'Oh-oh, now what are we going to do?' "

Peterson is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.