BY JEREMY HOECK — firstname.lastname@example.org
With four more teams to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoff field a year ago, the Missouri Valley Football Conference probably could have qualified more than two programs.
Or, in the minds of league officials and coaches, it should have sent more than two.
Commissioner Patty Viverito made clear during Tuesday’s preseason coaches teleconference that the Missouri Valley deserved more than two playoff bids in 2013.
“Having only two teams in an expanded bracket is not OK,” Viverito said. “We have playoff caliber teams not being selected, and that’s not OK.”
Despite the FCS post-season bracket being expanded from 20 to 24 teams last season, the highest-ranked league in the country earned only two bids: North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
Both won at least one game (NDSU captured its third straight national title), but many who follow the league felt Youngstown State was also deserving of an invitation. The Penguins were 8-3 a year ago, despite losing their final three games, which may have hurt their prospects.
That didn’t sit well in Youngstown, according to head coach Eric Wofford.
“I think it’s very clear that we should have three or four teams in,” he said Tuesday. “Everyone knows that; every coach knows that.”
And still, the Valley had two teams in the post-season.
Despite leading the nation in the Gridiron Power Index (GPI), the ranking model that serves as the top indicator for at-large selection, the MVFC had North Dakota State at No. 1, Youngstown State at No. 9, South Dakota State at No. 12 and Northern Iowa at No. 13.
“That’s the thing that’s unfortunately out of our control,” Wofford said.
As for a way to avoid a similar issue in the future, Viverito pointed to two specific ideas: Help the selection committee “understand and respect strength of schedule,” and continue to schedule top-25 non-conference games.
“We’re not doing a lot of that,” she said, referring to the latter. “Getting them on our schedule; that may be the more challenging part, rather than beating them.”
The University of South Dakota, for one, played in 2013 a model similar to the one Viverito suggested. The Coyotes lost close games to Northern Arizona and Montana, both top-25 and playoff-bound teams out of the Big Sky Conference.
USD head coach Joe Glenn, who previously coached in the Big Sky, was quick to point out that a difference between that league and the Missouri Valley was easy to see late in the season – when the Coyotes played Montana and North Dakota State in consecutive weeks.
“There was no comparison. None whatsoever,” Glenn said.
By that point, USD had also completed its conference schedule (at 3-5), and was able to reflect back on a 6-point loss at Northern Arizona. “And they weren’t as good as people in our league,” Glenn added.
The first Valley coach to talk at length about – and offer a proposal to bolster — the league’s playoff chances was Mark Farley at Northern Iowa.
He suggested that perhaps the league should split into two divisions to have two league champions, and then a third team could possibly earn an at-large bid to the post-season.
“We need to plan ahead and project some possibilities of what we can do to get a third or fourth team in,” Farley said. “Scheduling is a big part of that.”
Viverito was asked about the possibility of splitting the league into two 5-team divisions as Farley suggested, and she wasn’t in favor in playing fewer games.
“I have a hard time envisioning how that logic helps us,” the commissioner added.
BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION — As work continues on a number of athletic-related facility updates at the University of South Dakota, the two biggest projects will be turned over to contractors on Monday.
Mortenson Construction, based in Minneapolis, will assume control of the grounds for a $66 million project at USD that includes a 6,000-seat basketball and volleyball arena, an outdoor track and soccer complex, and an academic laboratory.
That doesn’t, however, mean that Mortenson will have workers on site Monday to begin moving ground, according to USD athletic director David Herbster.
“Anything on our end that we need to remove and get ready, we’ve done that,” he said Thursday.
The timetable for construction remains on schedule, according to Lorin Wilcox, the project manager and building engineer for USD’s Facilities Management staff. The track and soccer complex is set for a 2015 completion, while the arena will be ready for use by 2016.
“What they choose to do with that (Monday) is up to them,” Wilcox said. “We’re more concerned with the end date, which they’ll meet.”
The bids for the track and soccer complex were due in Pierre on Thursday, and the first bid packages for the arena were sent out Thursday as well, Wilcox said.
From there, Mortensen will sort through the bids and award subcontractors for both projects.
Those are not the only athletic-related updates underway at USD, however, Herbster said:
• New metal football bleachers on the west end of the DakotaDome are being installed, with a completion date of Aug. 15,
• The lockers in the soccer and swimming/diving locker rooms were replaced,
• The DakotaDome pool has been off-line since June so it can be resurfaced, Herbster said, and
• A new Daktronics scoreboard will be installed out at the main softball field.
“These are upgrades that have been on our books for a while,” Herbster said, “but there will always be a priority.”
USD has tried to tackle smaller projects every year, he added. In 2011, for example, the permanent seats in the DakotaDome were replaced and a new basketball court was purchased.
Many of the projects, though, such as the new locker rooms and resurfaced pool are not ones the general public would notice, Herbster said.
As of Tuesday, the “lazy days” of summer are officially over.
Beginning today our local sports calendar begins to resemble a jigsaw puzzle — a lot of pieces that all have to fall into place.
It begins today with Yankton Post 12 hosting its Region 2A American Legion baseball tournament. Yankton’s Junior Legion baseball team heads to state in Aberdeen, beginning on Wednesday. Area Class B amateur baseball districts begin on Wednesday and Thursday.
And then the real fun begins.
American Legion baseball will take center stage in Tabor, host of the Class B tournament, beginning on Friday. Also on Friday, the Thrivent Financial Pro-Am golf tournament begins a run of the Dakotas Tour taking over Yankton courses for eight of 10 days.
As the state champion is crowned in Tabor, the local archery range will be heating up with the first of 10 straight days of major tournaments. The National Field Archery Association’s outdoor championships begin July 30 in Yankton, followed immediately by the International Field Archery Association’s World Championships. (Yes, I said “World Championships.”)
One day later, the crown jewel of the Dakotas Tour, the Hillcrest Invitational Pro-Am, takes to Hillcrest Golf and Country Club. The annual event has typically had the biggest championship payout on the independent tour.
As the calendar flips to August, baseball again takes the stage in Yankton, as the South Dakota State VFW Teener Class AA 13-14 Majors Tournament is at Riverside Field, the final major event at the park before work begins on the new artificial turf infield.
By the time all of this excitement ends on Aug. 8, a lot of people will have come through Yankton, even more than this summer vacation location is accustomed to. There will be a lot of great competition and a lot of fun to be had as this summer draws to a close.
Time to sit back and enjoy the ride … or in my case, get ready to be really busy. Either way, it’s going to be a fun couple of weeks.
BY JEREMY HOECK
In the world of good-problems-to-have, the South Dakota State men’s basketball program has found it challenging to lure bigger names to Frost Arena.
Put simply: Teams, especially of the mid-major variety, want to schedule road games they can win. And opponents have had a hard time leaving Brookings with a victory.
Dating back to the start of the 2010-11 season, the Jackrabbits are 48-8 at Frost Arena. And their 2014-15 schedule released Friday reflects those challenges, according to head coach Scott Nagy.
“At our level, we’re just not positioned to have the number of home games some people do,” he said Friday, while on the road recruiting.
“It’s tough to get people up here to play us.”
The Jackrabbits, coming off a 19-win season, were able to lock in 13 home dates — five in non-conference action, with two of those coming against Division II opponents.
South Dakota State will host a pair of lower-level exhibitions with South Dakota Tech and Dakota Wesleyan before the season opener Nov. 14 at Buffalo.
The Jacks will also visit Idaho, Florida Gulf Coast (in Sioux Falls), Saint Louis and Northern Iowa.
Coming to Frost Arena will be North Dakota, Chadron State (Nebraska), Wayne State (Nebraska), Kansas City and Idaho. The games with UND and Kansas City are both returns from last season, while Idaho is a home-and-home in the same season.
In many cases, those home-and-home contracts come against programs that are also finding it tough to schedule games, Nagy said.
“We’ve been successful the last couple years, and that makes it difficult,” he said. “They’re looking for games they can win, and it’s tough win at our place.”
Among the home games are two against lower-level opponents, D-II Chadron State and Wayne State. Last season, the Jacks hosted three non D-I games, including Wayne State.
Typically, those are the last games to be scheduled, Nagy said.
“Those games are difficult, but it’s also a chance for your team to get healthy and for players that don’t play much to get a chance,” he said.
Four other road games for the Jackrabbits will be played in the state of Utah.
They will compete in the World Vision Classic, Dec. 18-20 in Logan, Utah, where SDSU will play Idaho State, Cal State Bakersfield and Utah State. SDSU will then, three days later, face the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
The Jackrabbits, who host rival University of South Dakota on Jan. 17, would — like every other program in the country — prefer to play more games at home, Nagy said.
“You always wish you had more, but the way I look at it, they’re all tough,” he said. “Every Division I game is tough, and it’s very difficult to win non-conference away games.”
The Jackrabbits, who lost in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational last season, will be led in 2014-15 by senior posts Cody Larson and Zach Horstman.
Other schedule items of note:
• According to Nagy, the games with Saint Louis, Northern Iowa and Utah are all guarantee games (essentially “one-time” contracts where SDSU is paid to make the trip). The Jacks will make a return trip to Florida Gulf Coast in 2015-16, and are still owed a return game from Murray State.
• There will be an interesting sub-plot to the Dec. 3 game between SDSU and Wayne State. Nagy’s son, Tyler, will be a freshman for the Wildcats next season.
• The game at Buffalo was originally scheduled to be played last season, but was postponed because of weather in January. The two teams met in the now-defunct ESPN BracketBusters series back in 2011-12.
• If you go by RPI of the non-conference teams on the schedule for the Jacks, the “best” game would be at Saint Louis. The Billikens finished 27-7 last season, good for a 24 RPI, but also graduated a bulk of their top talent from 2013-14. The only other top-100 RPI non-conference opponent for SDSU is Utah — North Dakota State was No. 32 in the final rankings last season.
• SDSU will face two teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season, Saint Louis and, of course, North Dakota State.
I was up in Sioux Falls for part of Wednesday afternoon to shoot & cover the Dakota Challenge AAU girls’ basketball tournament at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls.
Why did I make the trip?
In short: I was bored. Without a ‘summer project,’ I’ve been going crazy. Amateur baseball is one of my favorite sports to cover, but beyond that, there hasn’t been a lot going on. So I needed to do something I enjoy: Basketball and recruiting.
Some extra tidbits from the action:
• Dakota Schoolers coach Jamie Parish had some good things to say about taking over the Sioux Falls Washington girls’ basketball job. Parish, a Yankton native, previously coached in Vermillion and Centerville before moving to Sioux Falls.
“We love being in Sioux Falls,” he said, referring to his wife, Laura. “And to be honest, I wasn’t looking for a head coaching opportunity. But this was one I couldn’t pass up.”
Replacing Nate Malchow, who guided the Warriors to three state titles, won’t be easy, Parish pointed out.
“I’m sure the same people said that about following Fred Tibbetts (S.F. Roosevelt) or Rob Van Laecken (Parkston),” he said. “Or you can see the benefit of it — let’s keep the momentum rolling.”
• About his Schoolers 16s team, Parish said one player has already verbally committed to an NCAA Division I program. He didn’t identify the player by name, but that player is junior Megan Bultsma from Mount Vernon-Plankinton (she committed to South Dakota State last year).
• On the idea of recruiting, Parish said SDSU and the University of South Dakota have both attended every Schoolers game this summer — “because they want to see those kids stay in South Dakota.”
Tim Miles at Nebraska is the perfect example, Parish said.
“He’s starting to turn things around down there,” Parish said. “And he’s said that he wants the best kids in Nebraska to stay in Nebraska, and then you can go work on the next state over.”
• While I was at the Sanford Pentagon on Wednesday afternoon, coaches from every collegiate level in South Dakota were in attendance — USD/SDSU on down to the NAIA ranks, including both coaches from Mount Marty College.