Jason Dannelly with a Look Back: The Future of the NAIA Article Circa 2009

In February of 2009, I wrote  three part article entitled “The Future of the NAIA” to help educate fans of the NAIA about some of the issues that were facing the NAIA at that time. We’re approaching what would be five years later and today I thought it would be interesting to look back at some of the things I talked about in that article and see what holds up and what was completely crazy.  The article appears below in it’s entirety.

Over the next several weeks, Jason Dannelly of College Fanz will release an investigative report on the NAIA. Depending on which conference in which area of the country a person talks too, the NAIA is either doing really strong or ready to fall to pieces. There has been no doubt that the borders of the NAIA have shrank in the last 10 to 15 years but the quality of NAIA competition has grown vastly as well as the image from an organization that held a negative perception in the 1980’s.

Dannelly will talk with presidents of NAIA schools, conference commissioners and the president of the NAIA, Jim Carr, about the future of the NAIA. Both the positive and negative aspects of the NAIA will be studied as well as possible solutions. The report will be released into three separate series.

Upsetting the Apple Cart: Life in a Midwest NAIA Conference
No matter what area of life or the world one talks about, when you do something that is out of the norm people will begin to draw conclusions based upon their own hypothesis rather than going straight to the source to get the facts. That is the case with the Great Plains Athletic Conference.

The GPAC consists of 13 private, faith-based colleges and universities in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. The roots of the conference date back to 1969 as the Nebraska Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (NIAC) and the league retains all six of its charter members – Concordia, Dana, Doane, Hastings, Midland Lutheran and Nebraska Wesleyan. In 1992, the NIAC added Northwestern and became the Nebraska-Iowa Athletic Conference. Eight years later, Dakota Wesleyan, Dordt, Mount Marty and Sioux Falls joined the conference which became the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) in 2000-2001. Briar Cliff entered the league in 2002-2003 and Morningside became the 13th member starting with the 2003-2004 school year.

With such a strong tradition in the same conference and the same national affiliation (NAIA) any changes or thoughts of changes within the conference are often see as reason to worry. In May of 2008, the GPAC looked as if it was the leading conference in the NAIA. Membership was strong, presidents were leading pioneers in NAIA circles and the conference was possibly as stable as any college conference, NAIA or NCAA.

But then came June.

Applications by Hastings College, Concordia and Doane College to become exploratory members of NCAA DIII rocked the super conference and its membership. Little had been spoken publicly by the schools presidents about exploring DIII and none the less schools and other institutions in the GPAC began drawing their own conclusions.

In December, Dana College notified the conference they would explore the option of joining the Midwest Collegiate Conference of Iowa as a potential new member. The schools Board of Trustees will meet Friday, February 20th to make a final recommendation as to which conference affiliation is best for the Vikings.

The University of Sioux Falls has long been rumored to be making the move to NCAA DII. In recent years those rumors have gotten louder and louder as the Cougars began construction on new athletic facilities.

“Our thought was some point in the future when our facilities are 100% completed our complex as a whole would be state of the art for even the NCAA DII level,” said President Mark Benedetto of the University of Sioux Falls.

“When we near completion of our complex we will explore NCAA DII. But the economic downturn has slowed the fundraising for our complex and I do not see the University moving toward DII until our facilities near completion.”

At first glance it appears the GPAC has a lot of schools moving in a lot of different directions. But as the issued is explored further each school with perhaps Sioux Falls as the exception, seems to agree the best long term national solution for the their school is the NAIA.

But the GPAC has not been the only Midwestern conference to wonder about where its future might be.

Different Conference; Same Situation
The GPAC has faced some of the same challenges the Dakota Athletic Conference faced in 2005. During the fall of ‘05 the DAC had multiple talks about changing affiliations to NCAA DII and even brought in two special presenters from NCAA conferences.

At the turn of the century the Dakota Athletic Conference seemed to be a small college super conference. As the South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference broke apart, the DAC-10 and GPAC were formed as a mix of the NAIA’s best in the Midwest.

But as time went by, so did several members of the DAC-10. The University of Mary joined the Northern Sun (NCAA DII) while Huron University changed ownership, changed names and essentially closed their doors due to tough financial times. The shaky times in 2005 had many believing the DAC was all but done as rumors began swirling that Minot State and Black Hills State would join DII. That would begin the chain reaction of other Dakota teams exiting the NAIA and the DAC.

Dakota State applied for membership to the GPAC hoping they would be accepted to help cut back on travel costs and also to open the door to more regional games in the eastern South Dakota area with Sioux Falls, Dakota Wesleyan, Briar Cliff and Morningside. But their membership was denied before it even got to the vote. The GPAC consists of all private schools and the addition of Dakota State would have been the first state school admitted to the conference. This after Peru State had been denied membership in the previous years.

After the NCAA talks and presentations the DAC had several thoughts and ambitions with what they could do with the conference, but at the end of the day athletic director Roger Ternes of Dickinson State summed up the biggest issue concerning the DAC in a 2005 VSN article.

“I don’t care what logo is on our wall, it still doesn’t change the fact that it’s eight hours from Dickinson, N.D to Madison S.D.”

The DAC has remained in tact with no defections since 2005 as the conference has seemed to solidify its place in the NAIA.

“I think the DAC has strengthened based upon the transition from 2005 to 2009,” said Gene Wockenfuss, Athletic Director of Dakota State. “We have some great initiatives going on right now with our DAC radio show and our first ever football jamboree.

There are just a lot of good things going for the DAC.”

South of the GPAC is the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference and the Heart of America Athletic Conference. The HAAC officially found out this month that William Jewell would move to NCAA DII, one year after the conference moved from NAIA DII in basketball to NAIA DI and one year after the Cardinals filed for DIII exploration.

Park University will leave the MCAC to move into the American Midwest Conference while MCAC members Bellevue University, College of Saint Mary and Peru State will seek membership into the Midwest Collegiate Conference. MCAC member York has applied to the GPAC.

The future of the MCAC is in question and several of its institutions are left to wonder what conference they might be playing in down the road. As the conference talks have continued, talks of institutions moving to the NCAA have been non-existent. Essentially all the members of the MCAC have looked into new NAIA conferences, rather than exploration into other divisions.

Exploration into NCAA Membership
NAIA traditionalists and sports fans across the country often times get the wrong idea when an institution files for an exploratory membership into the NCAA. The application to explore is seem by some as the first ticket out of the NAIA.

However the intent of the exploratory status is to do just that; explore. The NCAA requires any school seeking information on how each division works to file for an exploratory status in order to receive information on how each division’s rules could affect athletic aid, sponsored sports and department structure.

Many schools who are unveiling a 5-10 year plan often times file for exploratory status into the NCAA in order to present information from both the NAIA and NCAA to their board of regents or trustees

A school wishing to explore DIII for example must file paperwork with the NCAA, announce the exploration publicly and pay a $500 application fee to the NCAA. After that is completed a school can begin to study the division.

In the summer of 2008, seven NAIA members filed for exploratory DIII memberships (Berry College Ga., Concordia University Neb., Covenant College Ga., Doane College Neb., Hastings College Neb., Penn State-Abington and William Jewell Mo.). No NAIA schools filed to explore DII membership last year, but Ohio Dominican, Urbana Illinois-Springfield, King College, Lambuth and Cal-State East Bay had all previously filed and are moving forward with provisional memberships.

Ultimately schools in the NAIA explore membership with the NCAA to see what possibilities might lay on the other side of the fence.

The GPAC Presidents Weigh In
“We’re always in strategic thinking, trying to vision were we will be in five years,” said Dr. Phil Dudley, President of Hastings College. The Broncos, a founding member of the NIAC in 1969, were perhaps the biggest surprise of GPAC schools to file for a DIII exploration.

The same style of strategic thinking at Concordia University led the Bulldogs and their president, Rev. Dr. Brian L. Friedrich, to do the same last summer.

“It’s been a very good and helpful learning process for us,” said the Concordia President.

Doane College President Jonathan Brand and the Tiger Athletic Department filed for their third season of exploration into NCAA DIII. Brand, who came to Crete, Neb. from DIII Grinnell College (Iowa), has filed for the exploration each year of his presidency.

“I just think it would be unwise for us to preclude any options,” said Brand.

Even though the reason’s for filing for the exploration into DIII membership might vary from institution to institution the reason’s for staying in the GPAC and the NAIA all remain the same. All of the exploratory institution’s Presidents felt the GPAC and the NAIA was the best fit for them after an exploration of DIII

“We like the teams we play,” said President Brand of Doane College. “I don’t see us leaving the GPAC or the NAIA (anytime in the near future).”

The same thoughts were echoed from the Tigers rival to the north.

“Moving out of the GPAC or out of the NAIA is just not in the cards for us,” added Dr. Friedrich of Concordia. “We like the schools we play and we have some long standing historic rivalries”

“We plan on staying in the GPAC and the NAIA,” said Dr. Dudley of Hastings College. “We feel it’s a good fit for us.”

A Shaky Year Coming to a Close
The exploration of three schools into DIII, the shadow of DII and the potential of losing a founding member of the conference has shaken the small college super conference, making the job of Commissioner Corey Westra a difficult one over the last year. On top of the year to year initiatives that the GPAC drives to be a leader on in the NAIA, Westra was faced with trying to keep his membership together.

“It has had its challenges,” said Westra. “But I think as some of the dust has settled in the conference we are beginning to have a clearer picture of what is ahead for the GPAC.”

That picture should become clearer after the spring meeting as York College has applied for membership. The addition of York College could mean expansion for the conference or a replacement for Dana College if the Vikings move to the MCC. If the Vikings stay, York College could prove as a replacement for Sioux Falls when the Cougars complete their facilities and move toward exploring DII.

There is also the possibility of York College not being accepted into the conference which could mean the GPAC might have a slight reduction in conference games if Sioux Falls or Dana were to leave.

“There is a lot of tradition and a lot of great schools in the GPAC,” said Westra. “Personally I’d hate to see any of them leave.”

As the academic year winds down it would appear all but one of the NAIA’s Midwestern schools is staying put as William Jewell moves to NCAA DII. Sioux Falls may be the next school to transition as they have already indicated it is part of their strategic plan for athletics moving the question from a matter of “if” to a matter of “when”.

Part two of the three part series will be released early next week as Dannelly examines the coasts of the NAIA and members that have moved and are moving into the NCAA. Part three will be released next Thursday.

A Forgotten History
In 1957 the NAIA national office made the move from Pepperdine University to Kansas City, Mo. so the national office could better serve its institutions from a more centralized location. The next 30 years proved to be the NAIA’s most prolific time as membership soared to an all time high.

However in the last 15 years the NAIA membership has decreased significantly. Currently the NAIA has 291 members down from an all-time high of 588 members in 1973-74 but up from membership numbers in the last five years. However with the current state of several conferences in the NAIA, the NAIA membership may slip below 280.

Last summer the NCAA released their most recent list of potential new NCAA schools based upon those applying for provisional NCAA memberships and exploratory filings.

Houston Baptist is the lone former NAIA member moving into NCAA DI, a decision the Huskies made a few years ago. On their way from the NAIA to NCAA DII are Urbana University (Ohio), Ohio Dominican, King College (Tenn.), the University of Illinois-Springfield, Cal-State Eastbay, Dominican (Calif.) and Lambuth (Tenn.).

Moving to DIII are Lyndon State, Saint Vincent College, Geneva College (Penn.) and Spalding University. Berry College and Covenant College have not officially notified anyone if they will continue as DIII exploratory members but all signs are pointing towards the two schools in Georgia to move to the NCAA.

Once seen as equal to NCAA DII, the NAIA has fallen behind the other small college scholarship division in terms of membership and media profile. A recent article in the Canton Rep characterized the move of two Canton area NAIA institutions to the NCAA as “a gigantic leap forward.”

Lost Trophies
There is no doubt that when NCAA DII and DIII became more prevalent and gained more exposure that the NAIA was bound to lose some of the 588 members it had in the 70’s. Frankly put, some members were much better fits in NCAA DII or DIII than they ever would have been in the NAIA. DII and DIII allowed those schools to move more towards their niche.

The best of the original NAIA institutions have moved on in all major sports. This fall marked the 53rd annual NAIA football championship. Of the 80 trophies awarded to NAIA schools through the years at the NAIA DI and NAIA DII level only 16 still remain in NAIA schools. Five of those trophies were awarded to Carroll College since the year 2000, the University of Sioux Falls has three, Georgetown College has three, Northwestern (Iowa) has two, with Peru State (Neb.), NW Oklahoma State and Azusa Pacific (Calif.) holding the others.

The crown jewel of the NAIA is the NAIA DI men’s basketball tournament in Kansas City. It too has seen the same sort of casualties. In NAIA DI men’s basketball, 22 of 71 championship trophies remain in NAIA institutions trophy cases with six of those belonging to Oklahoma City and three belonging to Life University.

One of the first NAIA basketball tournaments held at Kemper Arena in Kansas City was in 1975. The NAIA moved the tournament to the newly opened Kemper and saw record crowds for the basketball tournament. However of the 32 teams selected to play in the 1975 tournament, only three of the 32 teams remain in the NAIA (Malone, William Jewell and Morningside.)

The remaining basketball championships in NAIA DII and DI women have seen some consistency with its teams sticking around. The DI women’s basketball has seen 17 of 29 trophies still in NAIA DI. NAIA DII men’s basketball has 15 of 18 trophies while NAIA DII women’s basketball has 11 of 18 trophies still in NAIA trophy cases.

The number of trophies exiting the NAIA in DI men’s basketball almost mirrors the initial exit of the NAIA from Kansas City to Tulsa and back.

There are many NAIA baseball trophies that are still in the NAIA, however most of them belong to Lewis-Clark State. If you remove the Warriors from the championships only eight of 37 trophies are still in the NAIA. With Lewis-Clark State in the mix the number elevates to 24 of 53 trophies still in NAIA trophy cases.

The Closing Borders
The border of the NAIA has moved inland in recent years. The eastern most schools of the NAIA have moved to NCAA DII or DIII with fewer schools in those regions coming into the NAIA. The West Coast has experienced the same problem with schools moving to the NCAA and fewer schools coming into the NAI A membership.

Many of these schools seemed to have found a better niche in the NCAA than what they originally had in the NAIA. With the expansion of scholarships or reduction to “non-scholarship” many of these schools needed a new home.

In 1981 the NAIA had several football conferences located around the oceans and on the borders of the United States. In the east there was Central Intercollegiate Conference (made up of schools in Virginia and the Carolinas) the West Virginia Intercollegiate Conference, the South Atlantic (made up of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina schools) the Northwest Intercollegiate and the Evergreen (made up of Oregon and Washington schools). None of those conferences exist in the NAIA today and only four schools from these conferences exist today as NAIA members (West Virginia Tech, Southern Oregon, Eastern Oregon and Oregon Tech, a non-football member.)

The same can be said for basketball as the conferences mentioned have left the NAIA along with many others.

The problem today is the NAIA may see the same sort of exodus it saw in the 1980’s. There are several conferences contemplating their future in the NAIA, none more public than the American Mideast Conference.

On February 24th the Presidents of the AMC with meet to discuss the future of the conference. There are seven current members who are looking at forming an all Ohio NCAA DII conference while the remaining schools in the conference are trying to figure out their futures if the Ohio schools decide to bolt.

“From what I have been told, those schools are concerned with the overall viability of the NAIA,” said Dr. Paul Hennigan, President of the AMC and of Point Park University. “There are rumors amongst our Council of Presidents that it will only be a matter of time before the NAIA is absorbed into the NCAA.”

The stability of the NAIA has been in question for the last few years as the NCAA has contemplated expanding DII, DIII and the potential of a new “DIV” although talks of a new division in the NCAA have now died down.

“They are also concerned with the geographic size of our conference and by forming an all Ohio Conference that would chance significantly,” added Hennigan.

This year the AMC will lose Ohio Dominican who have already began their transition into NCAA II. The Panthers however, are not one of the Ohio institutions pushing for an all Ohio league. ODU has expressed an interest in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Conference (GLIAC) and will likely apply for official membership into the conference this summer along with Lake Erie College, who is in their second year of a provisional NCAA membership.

At the upcoming meeting Cedarville, Mount Vernon, Malone, Walsh and Notre Dame College will be among those schools looking to leave the AMC. If those schools decide to continue to move an all Ohio NCAA conference it is likely that the University of Rio Grande and Shawnee State could join the Mid South Conference, leaving Northwestern Ohio, Wilberforce, Ursuline, Point Park, Carlow, Daemon, Houghton and Roberts Wesleyan in the AMC. The move would create a large “donut” in the middle of the conference potentially pushing the New York institutions to become independents or join the once fading Sunrise Conference. The farthest travel if the New York institutions were to join the new conference would be about 13 hours from Daemon College to the University of Maine-Fort Kent.

The Mid South Conference was once thought to be a NAIA conference that was on its way out because of the lack of full members. A majority of schools in the Mid South joined the conference primarily as a football conference and at one time the conference almost dipped below the minimum six schools to receive an automatic bid for basketball. Fast forward five years and the Mid South Conference could see their full membership number push to above ten with the addition of Virginia-Wise and possible additions of the AMC’s Rio Grande and Shawnee State.

The changing of conferences and divisions has created a ripple effect in the NAIA. Virginia-Wise joining the Mid South reduced the number of members of the Appalachian Athletic Conference for the upcoming year. Covenant also appears to be leaving the AAC for NCAA DIII and King College will be moving to NCAA DII. Montreat College is unsure of what its future in the conference might be. The school located in Montreat, N.C. is a school stuck between a rock and a hard place as they try to determine what is best for their institution overall. The school recently announced they will move away from awarding athletic scholarships and are contemplating a move to NCAA DIII. The potential moves in the conference could take the AAC from ten this last season to six in the near future.

“The intent is to make it real clear that we are first and foremost a Christ-centered, liberal arts college,” Montreat President Dr. Dan Struble said in a recent Ashville Citizen Times article. “We intend to be involved in athletics, but we hope to have a culture with our students and student-athletes alike that is similar and that is really academic in nature and is a real coherent community.”

Despite the evident changes in the AAC, Mid South Conference and other conferences, the AMC is hoping to retain its current members for at least a little while.

“We are hoping to preserve the AMC conference for a minimum of two years,” said President Hennigan. “The six presidents (in Ohio) that I have talked to privately are all committed to forming their own conference.”

Without question all talks are that conference will be a NCAA Conference. It appears the eastern contingent of the NAIA feels very strongly that the future of the NAIA is bleak.

“At this point I wonder the value of two national associations (NAIA and NCAA),” added Hennigan. “With the NAIA losing membership at the rate it has, I don?t understand the differentiation anymore, and I don’t understand the need for it. It’s probably better to find a way for all the resources to come together.”

Walsh and Malone both recently expressed their intent to officially file for NCAA DII. Charles Grimes, athletic director of Malone, weighed on the current image struggle they have in their region with the NAIA.

“Everybody seems to know the NCAA,” Grimes said in a recent Canton Rep interview. “We struggle with that a little bit. We often say, ‘This is our situation,’ and the kid says, ‘Are you a Division II school? Are you a Division III school?’ And we say, ‘We’re actually a part of the NAIA.’ And they go, ‘Oh, what?s that?’ “

NAIA President Jim Carr and Kevin Dee of the NAIA will attend the AMC meeting on the 24th to talk about that subject with the presidents of the conference. Conference commissioner Dr. Jim Houdeshell will also be at that meeting and he feels that the decision could go either way.

“I just think saying anything officially before the meeting is premature. I’ve been around these meetings for a long time and I just know that when everyone gets together that opinions and decisions may change,” said Houdeshell.

The West Coast of the NAIA has faced the same problems as the East Coast. Enrollments grew; scholarships expanded to DII levels or were cut to DIII levels and as teams left the NAIA schedules shrank and distances widened. One of the first conferences to leave for NCAA DIII was the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) in the 1970’s opening up a void in Southern California as well as the Northwest Conference in the 1990’s. The SCIAC and the NWC were the only conferences on the West Coast that most NAIA schools could compete with. The NWC does schedule games on a regular basis with NAIA schools while the SCIAC plays very few NAIA teams.

Two year’s ago seven NCAA DII schools formed the Pacific West Conference. Six of the seven schools are former NAIA members with Dixie State, a former junior college, being the only exception. The California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) has long been a NCAA DII conference and boasts one of the highest per school average enrollments with six of its 11 members over 14,000 undergraduate students. The Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) is also a DII member.

One of the biggest issues in terms of scheduling on the West Coast for DII and the NAIA comes in the sport of football, were there are a limited number of schools. The DIII schools in California hardly ever play anyone outside of their conference or offer very limited amounts of non-conference games to scholarship opponents. Current the NAIA has two independent members, Southern Oregon and Azusa Pacific who struggle to even find a complete schedule. The GNAC had played a double-round robin to complete their schedule but Western Washington’s recent elimination of a football program has all the schools the NCAA’s DII conference struggling for games much the NAIA.

The answer for the GNAC might be the addition of Canadian schools like the University of British Columbia or Simon Fraser, both of whom are in the process of potentially leaving the NAIA for NCAA DII membership.

“It looks more and more like it’s a perfect fit for where we should be,” said athletic director David Murphy of Simon Fraser in a recent USA today article. Simon Fraser’s undergraduate enrollment is over 20,000 while the University of British Columbia’s undergraduate enrollment is near 23,000 making them two of the largest in the NAIA.

Both of the NAIA’s current California conferences have lost members or have considered a complete jump to the NAIA. Athletic Directors and Presidents in the Golden State Athletic Conference have discussed the potential move in great depth and strongly considering the move to NCAA DII two years ago. But right now their is a strong commitment to keeping the conference together, and currently in the NAIA. Dominican University and Cal-State East Bay, both of the Cal Pac, have already applied for NCAA DII.

Currently, there is no answer for NAIA football on the West Coast. Several schools have contemplated adding football in recent years but none have been able to pull the trigger. At one time, there were talks of starting a West Coast Football League in the NAIA, but those talks have also come to a halt.

NAIA baseball faces the same issues in the Northwest. This season marks the first year of the West Coast Baseball League where eight NAIA members have formed a conference for direct qualification purposes. The league stretches from Canada to northern California.

The future of many of the NAIA’s conferences on the coasts appears to be dim or at least cloudy at this point. As time wears on, the NAIA and the NCAA should have a much clearer picture as to what institutions will participate in their affiliations as they begin to work together on several national issues.

Looking Back While Looking Forward
Frosty Westering, a retired football coach at NCAA DIII Pacific Lutheran, is famous for his coaching style and personality. Divisions and affiliations have never meant much to Coach Westering as he is a true believer that college athletics are a place for people to find themselves, mature and learn real life lessons from athletics. The lasting lesson from Westering, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, is that no matter where you are or what you do the main goal of life is to always “make the big time where you are.”

When Jim Carr became President of the NAIA, one of the first things he did was sit down with Myles Brand, the President of the NCAA, to make sure Brand understood the NAIA mission and the relevance of the division.

“He and I quickly learned there should be ways for the two organizations should partner.”

From that point forward the two began looking at the varying ways for the NCAA and NAIA programmatically partner as well as ways for NCAA DII and DIII schools to schedule NAIA schools without it hurting the NCAA schools in terms of schedule or postseason qualification. Once those two objectives were met, the NAIA and NCAA would look at perhaps a broader partnering of programs.

As the last two years have gone by the two affiliations have worked together on a few programmatic partnerships they are now ready to test. The first of which the NAIA membership will have an opportunity to vote on this spring.

The NCAA has agreed to create an NAIA eligibility center to work jointly with the NCAA’s current eligibility center. The partnership would allow the NAIA to take advantage of some of the synergies and investment the NCAA has already made into their eligibility verification. The initial eligibility, the amateurism and competitive experience would all go through the “NAIA Clearinghouse” which would become part of the NCAA’s current system.

No one can predict right now how that vote will turn out as there appears to be three different groups of opinions. The first is that the partnership of the NAIA with NCAA for eligibility would take the NAIA away from its trust based/self reporting philosophy. Others feel the partnership gives the NAIA instant credibility in the way the affiliation operates as well as giving the NAIA visibility to athletes that might not currently know about the NAIA. Essentially an athlete would be notified if they were NAIA eligible, NCAA eligible or both. The final group of opinions waiver between an adoption of both of the first two ideas.

“I think it would be a good thing for us because of the credibility and the visibility it will give us,” said Carr. “But I also know that anytime you enter into a new way of operating that you have to be ready to accept change and compromises and that is the part that I am usure if our membership is there yet.”

Strange Reactions
The NAIA eligibility center is just a toe in the water, so to speak. The scheduling portion of the partnership between the NAIA and NCAA is a much tougher road for the simple fact there are a lot of coaches associations who have passed stipulations in each sport which effect how teams are selected regionally and nationally for postseason competition.

There are many NAIA members that are located in large pockets of NCAA schools. Those schools will currently not schedule many games against the NAIA because a loss to an NAIA school will hurt the NCAA school when they are rated or looked at for the postseason. The current system in the NCAA offers no incentive or even neutral reaction for a DII or DIII school to play an NAIA school.

Depending on how the programmatic partnership works out for eligibility, the NAIA would move forward with more potential partnerships if this idea is received well by the membership. Scheduling with NCAA schools would be toward the top of the list.

Despite the positive talks of the NAIA moving forward and partnering with the NCAA, there have been some in the NAIA membership that have jumped to conclusions prior to knowing all of the facts.

“I think some of these discussions have had unintended consequences,” said Carr. “Talk of the NAIA and NCAA partnering in a broader way has caused some people to think they need to start making quicker decisions on their membership.”

The idea behind working on potential programs together was so that institutions trying to make decisions on affiliations would give the current partnership talks time to play out. Then, depending on what changes were made or partnerships were created, members could then make a decision on if the NAIA or NCAA would be best for their future.

“I still do not understand why people may feel the need to rush to any decisions at this point,” Carr added.

Several school administrators in the NAIA have gone on record saying “it will only be a matter of time before the NAIA is bought out by the NCAA.” But that notion is one that the NAIA and the NCAA see little benefit in.

“There is not much incentive for the NCAA to buy the NAIA,” said Carr. “If you were running a business why would you buy a company that is not driving revenue. In these economic times they are looking for ways to cut expenses at the DI level.

I think (the NCAA) is interested in figuring out a way for us to come together and work to make intercollegiate athletics more understandable to perspective student athletes. But there has been no talk of the NCAA ‘buying’ the NAIA. I just don’t think that is part of the equation.”

NAIA; The Fourth Division
There was fear a few years ago from some NAIA members and NCAA DIII members that a fourth division would be added to the NCAA. The additional division would have split DIII and potentially allowed for new members from the NAIA and DII to move into DIII or DIV if they felt it was a better fit than their current situation. However, the move the make a fourth division in the NCAA failed. Carr feels the failed fourth NCAA division allows the NAIA and NCAA to work even more closely on defining the mission of all the current collegiate divisions. The idea behind the fourth division was to provide different choices for schools based on a number of different criteria. The biggest struggle is trying to determine what the criteria would be.

“Part of my hope is we can work together to better define what the four current divisions are (DI, DII, DIII, and NAIA). If we can work closer with the NCAA, school who are trying to make a decision on membership can make that decision based on facts rather than what different people are telling them.”

There are several reasons why NAIA members have left in recent years but the majority of reasons typically come back to one of two key components; regional play and championship reimbursement.

With the economic times as they are all college’s and universities are looking to save money on travel. In some cases the move to the NCAA has opened up an opportunity for less travel due to newly formed conferences.

The biggest difference between the NAIA and NCAA comes in the area of postseason travel reimbursement. The NCAA reimburses institutions for their travel to national championships in all sports while the NAIA does not fully reimburse for travel to their championships. Trying to win a national title in the NAIA will cost institutions quite a bit of money if they are not financially prepared.

“We fundraise year round for championships in all of our sports,” said Bruce Parker, athletic director at Carroll College. “It’s something that we plan for and we hope happens. If it doesn’t we allocate that money for the next year or to other area’s in order to make us a championship program.”

Even though the cost of making it to an NAIA championship is seen as pricy at times it is still less expensive than becoming an NCAA member. If a school figures in the cost of the additional employees, increase costs of insurance, increased scholarship costs and a few other items; being an NAIA member becomes less expensive than an NCAA member even if you are paying your way to national championships with little reimbursement. When it comes to postseason reimbursements schools have to consider the NCAA operates on a 600 million dollar budget while the NAIA operates on a four million dollar budget. In reality, the 50 percent reimbursement the NAIA does offer is rather high given the budget of the national office.

Ohio (Come Back to … NAIA)

But even once the NAIA does the calculations and presents the facts to member institutions some will still decide to leave. The schools in Ohio seem to think at this point an affiliation with the NCAA will move their schools forward and bolster their image.

“For schools in the position of those six private institutions, DII can be a pretty tough place to be for schools if they want to come at the national level because DII can be dominated fairly good sized public institutions,” said Carr.

The thought coming from the NAIA’s Ohio members looking at the NCAA is they might be able to capture some of the glamour that comes with being an NCAA school which would aid them in recruiting. Being able to be recognized in the same governing body as the Ohio State University and other schools in the area would help level the playing field when it comes to recruiting.

“It’s their choice to look at something different, said Carr. “But we are certainly going to talk with them through their exploratory phase that competing in the NAIA will make more sense.”

Conclusions
At the end of the day it looks like the talks about the NAIA going away, disbanding or imploding are coming more from member institutions who are crying wolf or trying to move their own agenda forward rather than keeping the entire organization in mind. The core of the NAIA is still very solid with 291 members with most of those administrations ready to see how the NAIA will improve in the coming years, rather than jumping ship into a situation that might hurt their athletic programs because they did not wait to see what the future held.

“People want that small institution feel,” said Carr. “We offer a niche in comparison to NCAA DII at looking at athletics in a different way and fortunately there are nearly 300 schools that feel the same way. Right now we are making sure we adapt to the times and try to save everyone a little money.”

There are major issues with the NAIA losing membership in certain areas. But as the NAIA works with the NCAA to resolve scheduling conflicts between the two affiliations the ability to save money with more regional games will certainly help NAIA members in fringe areas to schedule more games that will have incentive to their NCAA opponents.

The NAIA and NCAA must work to take away the penalty or negative look that coaches associations of NCAA schools currently have when playing NAIA institutions. Most of the current DII and DIII schools were once NAIA institutions. Through financial gains, enrollment increases and good campus management many of these schools were able to expand their offerings. Their campuses grew and so did their athletic departments, so a move to the NCAA made sense. But what does not make sense is to penalize schools for wanting to play NAIA schools, especially since it is part of many of the NCAA’s schools histories.

NCAA DII is recruiting new members very aggressively and there are some members of the NAIA that are a good fit for the NCAA. The schools are moving their entire athletic program and campus forward. Schools that put the money into scholarships, staffing and facilities to compete at the DII level will/should pursue the move to the NCAA. Schools willing to only do the bare minimum or slightly above the minimum should consider making those increases at the NAIA level to become a national power and continue to grow their enrollment in order for their entire school to be better off, not just the athletic program. In essence, if you are not “all in” at becoming competitive nationally in the NCAA, the NAIA is a better home for your school.

At the end of the day, it would seem college athletic programs need to look more at what they are doing to make themselves the best in all aspects of their program. All schools are evaluating what they need to do in order to move forward. The only thing schools need to remember is they need to “make the big time where they are at” and not what they think the big time should be by comparing themselves to other schools that have different financial means, alumni support and scholarship support.

Jason Dannelly Predicts the NAIA Championship Series for 11/3/13.

CSFL: Bacone squeaked out a 41-28 victory over Oklahoma Baptist to up their record to 7-2 while Langston found themselves in the same boat defeating Oklahoma Panhandle State, 20-19. These two faceoff this weekend for what will essentially be the conference championship game. Langston has done themselves no favors by entering the late season now at 4-4. Raters just are not going to look favorably at your team even if they are a 6-4, conference champion. It will be a stretch for the CSFL to get their conference champion in if Langston wins out. The smart money is for Bacone to win out, get into the top 20 and make the postseason.
Today’s Prediction: Bacone

Frontier: Carroll College and Rocky Mountain face off this week basically for the conference title. If Carroll wins, they seemingly lock up the conference title as long as they win in the final week of the season against Dickinson State. If Rocky wins, the Bears won’t win the title, but will boost themselves in the ratings for a potential at-large berth into the postseason and Southern Oregon will be in the drivers season to win a conference title. Yes, even though SOU lost to Carroll last weekend the Raiders could win the conference due to the Saints early season loss to EOU. A loss to Rocky gives Carroll two conference losses and SOU’s only conference loss is now to Carroll due to the Rocky Mountain forfeit earlier this season.  Long story short, there is a lot riding on the outcome of Carroll/Rocky this week.
Today’s Prediction: Carroll College as Champion. Rocky and Southern Oregon with a shot at an at-large.

GPAC: Nothing has changed here. Morningside is the only team that I think will make it in. Northwestern might have a shot, but they need help in the ratings and a three point win over Hastings this weekend is not going to be enough to impress the raters.  Dakota Wesleyan is also 6-3, but losses to Northwestern and Morningside are going to keep raters from moving them into a position to make the postseason.
Today’s Prediction: Morningside.

HAAC: Missouri Valley beat Peru State to put them in control of what should be three teams from the HAAC in the postseason. Peru State can still win two more games and likely make the postseason, but that would involve defeating Baker who is one of the hottest teams in the NAIA. The Vikings and Benedictine College will face off this weekend in Marshall, Mo. for another huge game in the HAAC.
Today’s Prediction: Benedictine, Baker with Mo. Valley and Peru State battling for a third spot.

Independent: Mayville State is now 6-3. They are the only Independent with a shot at the postseason. Losses to Midland, Graceland and Jamestown are going to keep them from the Top 20. Side note, the Comets are guaranteed their first winning season since 1990.
Today’s Prediction: No Qualifier.

KCAC: Good luck predicting what will happen in this conference. Tabor’s loss to Bethany last weekend shook things up and has given play to Sterling, Friends, Ottawa and themselves to make the postseason. Literally this conference is going to have to wait until the final snap to determine who will make the postseason. Friends, Ottawa and Sterling all have one loss in the conference while all four teams are 7-2. This week’s game with Friends/Ottawa will give one team the edge on a conference title. Ottawa and Tabor face off on November 16th, giving the Braves the toughest road of the top four in the KCAC to make the postseason.
Today’s Prediction: Ottawa and Sterling.

MSC-East:  No change from last week. The University of the Cumberlands remains in control with Lindsey Wilson and Georgetown College knocking on the door. If both teams take care of business the rest of the season, the winner of their game on November 16th will make it to the NAIA Championship Series.
Today’s Prediction: U-Cumberlands and winner of LWC/GT

MSC-West: Reinhardt and Campbellsville are still undefeated in conference play. But Campbellsville lost badly to U-Cumberlands in a crossover game last weekend which raters will not look too kindly upon, preventing them from getting to where they need to be in order to make the postseason. This week CU and Faulkner face off which is a must win for Faulkner if they are to make it into the postseason With a 7-2 record and the highest rating in the conference, the Eagles are the most likely team to still make it into the postseason. Reinhardt did not play this week and is still undefeated in the conference and has games left against Cumberland (Tenn.) and Campbellsville. If Reinhardt wins out, they win the conference and get the automatic berth into the postseason.
Today’s Prediction: Faulkner with Reinhardt still having a shot.

MSFA-Mideast: No changes in this conference. USF (Ind.) is still in control even though Marian and USF (Ill.) both have one loss in the conference. USF (Ill.) plays a tough game against MSFA Crossover opponent St. Ambrose this week while Marian and USF (Ind.) will faceoff the final week of the season.
Today’s Prediction: Saint Francis (Ind.).

MSFA-Midwest: Grand View is in control of this conference with a 9-0 record. Even if they lose to William Penn they have the tiebreaker over all other teams in the conference. Saint Ambrose’s win over Saint Xavier puts them into position to make the postseason as an at-large which also means SXU will struggle to make the field of 16. The Cougars have to win out to have a chance and even if that happens, it will be tough.

Today’s Prediction: Grand View, Saint Ambrose with Saint Xavier struggling to make it.

For those of you keeping score, my November 3rd prediction for the NAIA postseason looks like this:

  • Central States Football League: Bacone College
  • Frontier Conference: Carroll College and Rocky Mountain
  • Great Plains Athletic Conference: Morningside College
  • Heart of America Athletic Conference: Benedictine, Baker and Missouri Valley/Peru State.
  • Independents: None
  • Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference: Sterling College and Ottawa University
  • Mid-South Conference East: Cumberlands and winner of LWC/GT
  • Mid South Conference West: Faulkner University
  • Mid States Football Association Mideast: Saint Francis (Ind.)
  • Mid States Football Association Midwest: Grand View and Saint Ambrose

It looks like the final at large spots in the NAIA postseason will likely be fought over

Jason Dannelly’s Predictions for the NAIA Championship Series, October 27, 2013

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This week there is no reason for any pomp and circumstance in this article. Last week I explained just how the NAIA Championship Series works, how teams qualify and briefly looked at some of the history behind the process If you want to know how this all works, check out that article.

The biggest surprise this week was Saint Francis (Ind.) who lost to Robert Morris, 28-24 in Fort Wayne. RMU is an up and coming team with a ton of Chicago talent on their roster. The loss is mostly a surprise due to the location of it coming at home. USF is still my favorite to win the MSFA-Mideast but things have suddenly gotten a bit tighter.

Baker University defeated Missouri Valley, 13-10 also on the road. The loss won’t kill the Vikings postseason chances but it has certainly eliminated the margin of error.

Here’s a look at the conferences this week and who will potentially make the NAIA Championship Series.

CSFL: Bacone defeated Texas College to improve to 6-2 on the season. With their No. 25 ranking they only have to move up five more spots to make the postseason. Langston also won yesterday to improve to 3-4 and remaining undefeated in the conference with the Warriors. If both teams do what they are suppose to do next weekend, we could essentially have a conference championship game on November 9th for the CSFL’s automatic berth to the postseason. Langston will struggle to get to No 20 even if they win out, but it’s not impossible. Right now, Bacone and Langston are the only teams with a shot at the NAIA Championship Series.
Today’s Prediction: Bacone

Frontier: Carroll College and Rocky Mountain continue to separate themselves from the rest of the Frontier with wins this weekend. Carroll is the obvious choice for the postseason with Rocky also looking like a solid seconds choice. However, even though Rocky defeated Dickinson State last weekend, they will have one more loss on their record when the coaches vote on this week’s Top 25 after the Bears had to forfeit on of their earlier victories due to the use of an ineligible player. The two teams need to take care of business this week before they lock horns on November 9th for a potential conference title game. The biggest test will come for the Saints as they take on Southern Oregon in Helena. If the Raiders were to upset the Saints, they would have a great chance at making the postseason.
Today’s Prediction: Carroll College as Champion. Rocky and Southern Oregon with a shot at an at-large.

GPAC: Time to face facts; Morningside is the only team that has proved they absolutely deserve to be in the postseason. Concordia was the next in line before they lost to Doane College this weekend. The loss by the Bulldogs put them at 4-2 in the conference tied with Northwestern and both teams still have to play the nation’s No. 1 team this season. It’s entirely possible Concordia and/or Northwestern upsets the Mustangs, which would jump either team in the ratings and give them a chance at an at-large. But if I was a betting man, I wouldn’t count on it and I’d put my money on Morningside being the lone representative in the NAIA Championship Series.
Today’s Prediction: Morningside.

HAAC: Missouri Valley picked up their first loss of the season making a three-way tie for second place in the HAAC behind Benedictine. The Vikings appear to be the one team that could still spoil the Ravens’ undefeated season as they two will face off Nov. 9th in Marshall, Mo. Baker has quietly had an extremely solid season with their only loss coming to Benedictine. Baker’s major test will come on Nov. 16th against Peru State as the Bobcats are the other one-loss team in the conference. Peru State has the toughest road to the postseason in front of them as they play Missouri Valley this weekend and Baker the final week of the season.  I still expect three teams to make the NAIA Championship Series from the HAAC.
Today’s Prediction: Benedictine and Baker with a tossup between Mo. Valley and Peru State.

Independent: It’s going to take a miracle for someone to make it from the Independents.  Mayville State at 5-3 and Ave Maria at 4-2 have the best records of the group.
Today’s Prediction: No Qualifier.

KCAC: Tabor College and Ottawa are currently in position to make the NAIA postseason but that could change for both teams in the coming weeks. Ottawa still has games against rated teams in two of their final three weeks, which includes a regular season ending game against Tabor. Both Sterling and Friends are in contention to make the postseason if they can win out and get a little help in the ratings. Sterling plays no rated teams the rest of the season giving them the edge over Friends as the Falcons still face off with Ottawa. The KCAC could get royally messed up if Friends beats Ottawa and Ottawa turns around and beats Tabor while Sterling wins out. That would give Sterling the tiebreaker over Friends and the regular season title and possibly get Friends into the postseason. Needless to say, there is still a lot of football to be played in the KCAC. I still feel like Tabor and Ottawa are solid picks but Sterling and Friends are on the verge of making me a believer.
Today’s Prediction: Tabor and Ottawa.

MSC-East:  The University of the Cumberlands remains in control with Lindsey Wilson and Georgetown College knocking on the door. If both teams take care of business the rest of the season, the winner of their game on November 16th will make it to the NAIA Championship Series.
Today’s Prediction: U-Cumberlands and winner of LWC/GT

MSC-West: Reinhardt and Campbellsville are still undefeated in conference play. If either team wins out, they should get into the Top 20 and make the postseason. That might not get decided until Nov. 16th when the two face off. However, the more telling game will likely be Nov. 9th when CU and Faulkner face off. With a 6-2 record and the highest rating in the conference, the Eagles are the most likely team to make it into the postseason on paper. But you cannot sleep on Reinhardt because of their undefeated record with two manageable games left in their regular season.
Today’s Prediction: Faulkner with Reinhardt still having a shot.

MSFA-Mideast: USF loses to Robert Morris and opens up a can of worms in the MSFA-Mideast. USF (Ind.) still controls their own destiny but Marian, USF (Ill.) and Taylor all have one loss in the conference. If the Cougars slip up again this season, we could see a giant mess in this conference’s standings. USF (Ill.) has an outside shot at a postseason berth, but I still think only one team makes it from this conference.
Today’s Prediction: Saint Francis (Ind.).

MSFA-Midwest: Grand View is in control of this conference with an 8-0 record. They should finish the season as champs if they take care of business the next two weeks. There is a huge game this weekend between Saint Ambrose and Saint Xavier in Chicago as the two teams begin jockeying for second position in the conference. Neither SAU or SXU are guaranteed spots in the postseason, but if the loser of their head to head game this weekend wins out then this conference will still see two teams in the NAIA Championship Series.
Today’s Prediction: Grand View, Saint Ambrose and Saint Xavier.

For those of you keeping score, my October 26th prediction for the NAIA postseason looks like this:

  • Central States Football League: Bacone College
  • Frontier Conference: Carroll College and Rocky Mountain
  • Great Plains Athletic Conference: Morningside College
  • Heart of America Athletic Conference: Benedictine, Baker and Missouri Valley/Peru State.
  • Independents: None
  • Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference: Tabor College and Ottawa University
  • Mid-South Conference East: Cumberlands and winner of LWC/GT
  • Mid South Conference West: Faulkner University
  • Mid States Football Association Mideast: Saint Francis (Ind.)
  • Mid States Football Association Midwest: Grand View, Saint Ambrose and Saint Xavier

The major changes I made this week are eliminating a second team from the GPAC and given some chance to teams that are still undefeated in their respective conferences. By Nov. 9th, there is going to be a pretty clear picture as to who is going to make the NAIA Championship Series. The issue we will start to see is if teams like Reinhardt and Bacone barely make the Top 20. That would mean you essentially would have to be No. 14 in the final ranking or better to make the postseason.

The final three weeks of the NAIA regular season are shaping up like they usually do. We’re going to see some extremely exciting football in the weeks to come and no one can predict just how things will shake out come selection Sunday on November 17th.

NAIA Postseason Prediction from Jason Dannelly: There is still a lot of football to be played. . .

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Recently I was asked if I even follow NAIA football anymore because people haven’t been seeing article and blogs from me lately. Well, I will be the first to tell you that I very much have been following the NAIA each and every week. I still reach out to coaches to see how their team is doing and get their honest opinion on what is happening in their conference.

Many of these coaches I have been talking to and covering since my first year running the then NAIAFOOTBALL.NET, the precursor to the Victory Sports Network. Even though I still get a lot of information from these coaches, most of them turn things around on me and start asking for my opinion on what’s happening in the NAIA.  So with a little prodding from a few coaches for me to get back on the horse I decided this week would be the week I dive back into the world of NAIA football publicly, mostly because I have a lot of coaches who keep asking me random questions about conference in the NAIA.

It’s easy to forget that sometimes a coach in the Mid South Conference doesn’t really have the time to dig into what’s happening in the KCAC, or vice versa, to be able to determine what might happen in the postseason.

In fact, the biggest frustration that most NAIA coaches and fans have each year is trying to decipher the playoff picture. If you haven’t been around the NAIA very long it can be tough to try to figure out if you current No. 17 rating will be enough to get you into the post season if you keep winning. Given the criteria to make the postseason there are situations where a rating like that could get you into the postseason or leave you on the outside looking in.

Before we take a look at everyone’s chances at making it into the postseason, let’s first review the criteria that you must meet in order to make it into the NAIA Championship Series.

For a team to qualify for the postseason they must:

  • Win their regular season conference championship and be rated in the Top 20 of the final NAIA Coaches Poll.
  • If they are not their conference champions, they must be one of the next highest rated teams in the NAIA in order to gain an at large berth.

If you meet the criteria, you receive an “automatic” berth to the postseason. Keep in mind the scenario that a conference champion or the highest rated independent team might not make the postseason because they are not rated in the Top 20 because more often than not, this is the No. 1 gripe behind teams that were left out of the postseason.

With that in mind, the automatic berths in the NAIA Championship Series are awarded to the conference champion (rated in the final Top 20) of these conferences:

  • Central States Football League
  • Frontier Conference
  • Great Plains Athletic Conference
  • Heart of America Athletic Conference
  • Independents
  • Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference
  • Mid-South Conference East
  • Mid South Conference West
  • Mid States Football Association Mideast
  • Mid States Football Association Midwest

Essentially, 10 of the 16 spots in the NAIA Championship Series are spoken for by conference champions, leaving 6 at large berths for the next highest rated teams. There have been some years where conference champions were rated No. 16, No. 17 and No. 18 meaning teams rated as high as No. 13 were left out of the postseason with very good records. (William Penn knows what I’m talking about.)

So without further ado, here is a rundown of what everything looks like conference by conference for the NAIA postseason.

CSFL: Bacone is the only team in charge of their destiny to make it into the postseason. The Warriors are 5-2 and currently receiving votes. Their biggest test is Langston the second to last week of the season, the type of loss given the timing of it would knock them out of the postseason. Essentially, if Bacone beats Texas College, Oklahoma Baptist, Langston and Southwestern Assemblies of God, they will be in the postseason. One loss and they are done. If Langston runs the table they will be the outright winner of the CSFL, but with four losses on the season it would be tough for raters to move them into the Top 20 but not unheard of. 
Today’s Prediction: Bacone

Frontier: It’s absolutely crazy how competitive and tough this conference is year after year. Currently, Carroll College and Rocky Mountain are in the conference lead with essentially the conference championship game set for November 9th if both Rocky and Carroll win out. Now, that’s a giant if as teams like Southern Oregon, MSU-Northern and Montana Western all still have a punchers chance at making the postseason. Compound that with the fact Carroll’s only loss this season is to the 2-5 Eastern Oregon Mountaineers. The Frontier is really a “wait and see” conference for another two weeks before you can have any confidence in who will actually make the postseason.
Today’s Prediction: Carroll College as Champion. Rocky with a chance at an at-large.

GPAC: Morningside is the only team I feel comfortable saying will be in the postseason. Up until this weekend, Concordia was in that category but a two point loss to Northwestern has put a some doubt into if they will end the season rated high enough to make it into the postseason and with Doane, Morningside and Dakota Wesleyan on their schedule things will not come easy.  Northwestern might have a shot if they win out, but that would include upsetting Morningside in the final regular season game of the year.
Today’s Prediction: Morningside with possible at large to Concordia.

HAAC: Quite a few teams in the HAAC have an opportunity to make it into the postseason. Benedictine is in the drivers seat but the Ravens will still have to face off with Missouri Valley on November 9th. Regardless of that outcome if both teams win out, they will both be in the postseason. That’s easier said than done for Missouri Valley as the Vikings still have to face off with Baker and Peru State before they play Benedictine. Depending on how the final three weeks shake out, the HAAC will have a minimum of two teams in the postseason and a possibility of four teams. Peru State has had a heck of a season, but they might be the odd man out of the HAAC postseason.
Today’s Prediction: Benedictine, Mo. Valley and Baker.

Independent: Valley City State appeared to have the upper hand until this week’s out of NAIA loss. With a 4-3 record, they have to win out to even have a chance at making the postseason and even with that, they will finish the regular season 7-3. That’s not exactly the type of record that will pop off the screen at raters especially when you’ve lost to Mayville State and Gustavus Adolphus, two teams that a postseason qualifier needs to beat. But even with that said, the Vikings still have the best shot out of any of the NAIA Independents.  Next in line are Webber International, Mayville State and Presentation; none of which are receiving votes in the NAIA poll or have enough quality wins to be considered.
Today’s Prediction: No Qualifier.

KCAC: Tabor College is in the drivers seat with a 6-1 record. Ottawa was in control of their own destiny until their loss this weekend to Sterling College who has now entered the race as a possible suitor for the postseason along with Friends. However, given the ratings and history the only teams I would feel comfortable predicting make the postseason are Tabor and Ottawa. Sterling and Friends need a lot of teams in front of them to lose in order to make the postseason and there are too many games to be played to start figuring the possibility of either of them making the postseason. Two more weeks will make the postseason picture for the KCAC a lot clearer even though the outcome of the November 16th game with Tabor and Ottawa will potentially determine the conference champion.
Today’s Prediction: Tabor and Ottawa.

MSC-East:  The University of the Cumberlands has established themselves as the front-runner of the MSC-East after their victory over Georgetown College last weekend. The Patriots need to keep winning to secure a high seed in the NAIA postseason. They aren’t the type of team that is going to let the bottom drop out of their season and lose a few games at the end of the year. Given the ratings, Georgetown College and Lindsey Wilson are the only teams in any position what-so-ever to make a run at the NAIA Championship Series. LWC should finish 8-2 but their recent loss to Kentucky Christian stings. KCU is 3-1 in the conference, but their 3-4 overall record leaves them with little chance to make the postseason. LWC faces off with Georgetown the final week of the regular season meaning the winner of that game will likely be the only remaining team in the MSC-E to make the postseason.
Today’s Prediction: U-Cumberlands.

MSC-West: From looking at this conference week one and looking at it today, I can only think of one way to describe the race for a conference championship: a mess. Currently Reinhart, a first year program, is in the driver’s seat with a 3-0 conference record, 5-2 overall. Campbellsville is 2-0 in the conference but 3-3 overall while Faulkner is 1-1 in the MSC but 5-2 overall. Both Faulkner and Reinhart control their postseason likelihood if they win out. Keep in mind though, Reinhart plays Cumberlands this week, which will effect their current Top 25 rating. Faulkner does not have an easy road in front of them, but it is manageable with games against Bethel (Tenn), Belhaven, Campbellsville and Kentucky Christian. In terms of ratings and schedule, Faulkner is in the drivers seat with a lot of football still to be played.
Today’s Prediction: Faulkner

MSFA-Mideast: After last weekend’s win, Saint Francis (Ind.) is in control of their division as long as they take care of business the rest of the way. The rest of the conference is a garbled mess of good teams with average records. It’s going to be tough for another team in this conference to move up far enough in the ratings to pick up an at-large berth especially with three losses. Essentially, one of the remaining teams will have to win out in order to make the postseason.
Today’s Prediction: Saint Francis (Ind.).

MSFA-Midwest: Very competitive conference that Grand View is currently in control of at this moment. But don’t sleep on Saint Ambrose who has not lost in the conference yet and have a showdown with GV with Saint Ambrose this coming weekend. The winner will likely win the conference while the loser will probably get an at-large berth. The real question mark will be if SXU can keep winning to finish the season 8-3 and make the postseason. That would mean SXU would need to beat SAU as part of their remaining regular season run, which might put SAU’s postseason into doubt if they lose to Grand View this weekend. However, an SAU win this weekend and a loss later in the regular season to SXU would almost guarantee the MSFA-Midwest gets three teams in the postseason. In other words, there is still a lot of football to be played before I feel too good about my prediction for this conference.
Today’s Prediction: Grand View, Saint Ambrose and Saint Xavier.

For those of you keeping score, my October 19th prediction for the NAIA postseason looks like this:

  • Central States Football League: Bacone College
  • Frontier Conference: Carroll College and Rocky Mountain
  • Great Plains Athletic Conference: Morningside College and Concordia University
  • Heart of America Athletic Conference: Benedictine, Missouri Valley and Baker
  • Independents: None
  • Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference: Tabor College and Ottawa University
  • Mid-South Conference East: Cumberlands
  • Mid South Conference West: Faulkner University
  • Mid States Football Association Mideast: Saint Francis (Ind.)
  • Mid States Football Association Midwest: Grand View, Saint Ambrose and Saint Xavier

There is a lot of football to be played and if the last month of the season is anything like the previous month of NAIA football most of these predictions will be proven completely wrong. That’s what makes the NAIA so exciting and so fun to cover week after week.

I have been thoroughly impressed this season with Morningside, Cumberlands, Grand View and Benedictine. Each team has shown the type of poise that is needed to make a run at an NAIA national championship while having their own unique headlines to go with their programs. With four weeks remaining in the regular season it will be interesting to see how each team finishes up and the type of momentum they carry into the postseason.

But remember… there’s still a lot of football left to be played.

NAIA Ramblings of Jason Dannelly from 11/5/2007: Postseason Championship Series Starting to Take Shape

1 Sioux Falls (S.D.) 9-0
2 Carroll (Mont.) 10-0
3 Ohio Dominican 10-0
4 Bethel (Tenn.) 9-1
5 St. Francis (Ind.) 8-1
6 Saint Xavier (Ill.) 9-1
7 Lindenwood (Mo.) 10-0
T8 Jamestown (N.D.) 9-1

However the rest of the spots in the postseason leave many of us scratching our heads. Losses on the last week of the season do nothing to help you. Especially if they are to teams whom the raters feel you should beat.

T8 St. Ambrose (Iowa) 7-2: St. Ambrose is really the only team that has some work to still do. The Bee’s play Trinity International in what should be a victory for SAU. I am not saying that to talk down the Trojans but if SAU is truly a postseason caliber program, they win this football game going away. A loss would still likely get the Bees in the postseason because they would be the MSFA Midwest conference champion. Even a bad loss to TIU would not likely get them to below #20 which is all they need to make the postseason.

10 Friends (Kan.) 8-1: Falcons take on the University if Saint Mary this week. This should be a victory if the Falcons are truly the KCAC Champs. A loss will take them out of contention and give the conference crown to Bethel (KS) if the Threshers also win this week. I would say that Friends is in, but you can never be too sure in the KCAC.

11 Morningside (Iowa) 8-2: Barring a complete reversal of the rankings and a time machine invention I would say the Mustangs are in. They play no games this week so any drop in the poll would a travesty. Rest up Mustangs, you’ll be taking a road trip on November 17th.

12 Missouri Valley 7-2: Probably the toughest task of any team that needs to win to get into the postseason. They take on #7 Lindenwood who has won the HAAC title and the automatic berth to the NAIA Championship Series. If MoVal wins, they are in. A loss has them cross their fingers and hoping there is some movement in the spots behind them.

13 MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) 8-2: Pioneers face off with Culver-Stockton in a game they should win this week. A loss means they have to hope a lot of people rated #14-20 need to lose. Make things easy MNU … just win.

14 Virginia-Wise 8-2: Cavs tumbled in a few late games and now must win to make it in. They play WV Tech which should be a victory for UVa-Wise if they are postseason caliber. Given the fact that two conference champions sit below the Cavs, they need to finish strong. They are currently in a three way tie for their divisional title which means they would get the automatic bid if Georgetown and U-Cumberlands win.

15 Northwestern (Iowa) 7-2: Red Raiders did themselves no favors with a 33-7 loss to Morningside. They have to hope there are some losses in front of them to insure they will make the postseason. They also have to beat a much improved Doane College team.

16 Bethel (Kan) 7-1: Sitting on the bubble. Need to win this week against McPherson and hope teams in front of them lose.

17 Georgetown (Ky.) 6-3: Three way tie doesn’t help them. A loss by UVa-Wise puts the Tigers in automatically. They too need a few teams in front of them to lose in order to make it into the postseason. They will likely need to make it to #14 maybe #15 to make it. Gotta strap it on and beat Union while they are at it.

18 Cumberlands (Ky.) 7-2: Three way tie doesn’t help them. A loss by UVa-Wise and Georgetown puts the Patriots in automatically. They too need a few teams in front of them to lose in order to make it into the postseason. They will likely need to make it to #14 maybe #15 to make it. Gotta beat an improved Pikeville team to make it.

19 Northwestern Oklahoma 7-3: They win and they are in. NWOSU currently leads the CSFL and if they beat SNU they would get the automatic berth into the postseason. A loss will knock them out of the Top 20 and take that opportunity away.

20 Montana Tech 7-3: Gotta beat Carroll. If Tech can beat the Saints, then the raters will need to take notice and move the Orediggers up into a postseason position.

21 Black Hills State (S.D.) 7-3: Whoever wrote the DAC Bylaws had BHSU in mind, especially this season. According to the DAC bylaws: “If 2 of 3 teams are ranked in top 20, the winner of the head to head competition will advance.” Guess what … BHSU defeated Jamestown. Yellow Jackets just have to cheer on a team that beat them earlier this season to make it in as a Carroll College win over Montana Tech would almost seal the deal that BHSU would move up one spot to #20 and get the automatic berth.

22 Sterling (Kan) 7-2: Gonna need a miracle. Friends would need to lose and Bethel would need to lose along with Sterling getting a win over Ottawa. If all three of these things were to happen and Sterling were to move up into the Top 20, then the Warriors would make it according to the KCAC bylaws because they would have lost to higher rated teams than Bethel (KS) and Friends because the Warriors only losses are to those two squads. And as I stated last week …THEY BEAT NWOSU ON THE ROAD!

23 Malone (Ohio) 7-3: Has to win and hope for a miracle. That’s about all you can say. BTW, it’s only Ohio Dominican they have to beat …YEESH. Good luck Pioneers because it is not going to be easy.

24 Azusa Pacific (Calif.) 6-5: No game this week. Teams in front of them have to lose and they need to move up to #20. That’s a very manageable four spots but if you look at #17-#23 it will definitely not be easy.

25 Southern Nazarene (Okla.) 6-3: Crimson Storm has to defeat NWOSU and move up to #20 to make it to the postseason. It will be possible … but it will not be easy.

There are no unrated teams this week that I feel have a shot at jumping into the poll and making it to the postseason. There is just too much movement that has to happen in front of #26 in order for it to happen.

Ultimately there are two teams that I feel are probably going to get the shaft this season; Sterling College and U-Cumberlands. Both programs have won big games against top competition but due to losses to other good competition they could get left out of the postseason.

I am not trying to be a cheerleader for Andy Lambert and Sterling College but people need to wake up and notice what is going on with the Warriors. They had an eight win season last year. They are going to have another eight win season this year and they stepped up to the plate and played out of conference against NW Oklahoma State and won on the road. Ranger fans from Alva do not want to hear this but the facts show that the potential conference champion of the CSFL LOST to the #3 team in the KCAC. Plus Sterling has won six in a row after losing on the road to the top two teams in the KCAC.

U-Cumberlands could have helped their cause tremendously if they had beaten Georgetown a couple weeks ago. Now they have to win this week and hope for the best. The facts show they should be where they are unlike Sterling who should be higher in the ratings. I just feel the Pats are a postseason caliber football team but will struggle to make the cut on Sunday.

Speaking of Sunday … VSN will be broadcasting live from Grand Island analyzing the postseason picture starting at approximately 11:00 AM CST. You will be able to hear the broadcast live on the web via our broadcast agreement with Allinbroadcasting.com

There are a lot of possibilities and the message boards will be VERY active with talks of possibilities for certain teams to make it. Sign up and join in on the conversation today. Check back this week for “Chip’s Picks” for this week’s game and for who could make the postseason!

NAIA Ramblings of Jason Dannelly from 10/7/2007: Mid-Term Grades From Professor Jason

Let’s take a look at the report card for some of the major highlights and lowlights of NAIA football at the midterm.

A+ Honor Roll
Ohio Dominican: Panthers snapped the 54 game regular season winning streak of St. Francis and defeated a highly rated Saint Xavier team. Plus ODU got a win over DII Tiffin, that’s extra credit in “Professor Chip’s” book.

Lindenwood: People seemed to have forgotten about how good of students the Lions could be. They’re undefeated and looking for a chance to play in Savannah. Hopefully this student doesn’t decide to coast and forget to show up for the final.

Jamestown: This student lost a lot of experience over the last year but must have done some key studying last spring and summer to be ready for this season. Their definitely the best student in their class but we’ll have to wait and see what will happen if they make it to a regional “Quiz Bowl”.

Urbana: We thought this student was all but headed out of the door but they decided to come back one more year and show us they can be very good in this class. Their win over Walsh put them up a little closer to the top of their class’ honor roll but will need to hit the books hard until they take their final

Montana Western: This professor expected this student to sit in the back of the class and not pay attention. By the end of the school year I figured they’d be causing trouble but not enough to be a distraction. Never doubt a good student! The Bulldogs are in the front of the class and paying attention to every lesson!

Doane College: Matt Franzen took over a program that had fewer than 40 guys finish the season in 2006. This student worked hard in the off season and when everyone else (including this professor) counted them out, they got something done. Doane has already won two games this year … that’s two more than anyone thought they would win this season. Gold star for Doane! (Okay, that was cheesy)

Other A+ Honor Roll Members
Sioux Falls
Carroll College
Saint Xavier
The A Honor Roll
St. Francis IN
Bethel TN
Virginia-Wise (6-1)
Bethel KS (5-0)

Students that need more time in study hall:
You know the drill fellas, the grades aren’t where you want them to be and you have to get ready for the final. You still have a shot at getting an “A” by the end of the semester but you are going to have to work at it.

MidAmerica Nazarene, Northwestern IA, Graceland, MSU-Northern, Shorter, Malone, Morningside, and U-Cumberlands are off to a great start this semester but they need to keep their nose in the books.

Double the study hall hours:
Some of the NAIA’s best students seem to be slacking this season. They have the tools but for some reason they just seem to be lacking that punch needed to start the season the way I would have liked to have seen. St. Ambrose, Friends, Walsh and Missouri Valley need to spend a few more hours a week with their books open if they are going to pull off an “A” grade
Ups, Downs and Holding Steady:
There are some students whose parents need to know they are doing well in class and some that parents need to be notified their student needs to kick it in the butt just to have a passing grade. And of course there are some students that are doing their job but not causing me to take much notice as of yet. But they had better be careful and not slip onto the down list!

Now before anyone takes offense to the following list I should give my criteria for the grading because it is pretty simple. Just imagine if at the beginning of the season I guessed at what everyone’s grade would be at this time of the season? Well the following report shows whether I feel like those teams are up, down or holding steady! Pretty simple … but I’m sure I’ll still get some hate mail. Just remember that a down isn’t necessarily a bad thing … it just means this professor thought you would be a little further a long with your homework.

Here’s our progress report of the Ups, Downs and Holding Steady’s in the NAIA.

UP -Nebraska Wesleyan

UP – Rocky Mountain – MT

UP – Ottawa – KS

UP – Bethany – KS

UP – Southern Oregon

UP – Bacone – KS

UP – Concordia – NE

UP – Peru State – NE

UP – Minot State – ND

UP – Baker – KS

UP – Texas College

UP – Evangel – MO

UP – South Dakota Mines

UP – Southwestern – KS
UP – Taylor – IN
UP – Hastings – NE

UP – Dakota State – SD

DWN – William Penn – IA

DWN – Kansas Wesleyan

DWN -Georgetown – KY

DWN – Lambuth – TN

DWN – McKendree – IL

DWN -Trinity International – IL

DWN – Tabor – KS
DWN -Waldorf – IA

DWN -Haskell Indian Nations – KS

DWN – Iowa Wesleyan

DWN – Valley City State – ND

DWN – Dickinson State – ND

DWN – Black Hills – SD

DWN – Briar Cliff – IA
DWN – Central Methodist – MO
DWN -Campbellsville – KY
DWN – Eastern Oregon – OR
HS – Montana Tech
HS – Pikeville – KY

HS – Southwest Assemblies of God – TX

HS – Belhaven – MS

HS – West Virginia Tech

HS – Avila – MO

HS – Azusa Pacific – CA

HS – Southern Nazarene
HS – McPherson – KS

HS – Dana – NE

HS – Midland Lutheran – NE

HS – Webber International – FL

HS – Cumberland – TN

HS – Union – KY

HS – Edward Waters – FL

HS – St. Francis– IL

HS – Sterling – KS

HS – Mayville State – ND

HS – William Jewell – MO

HS – Langston – OK
HS – Northwestern Oklahoma State

HS – Quincy – IL

HS – Olivet Nazarene – IL

HS -Culver-Stockton – MO
HS – Benedictine – KS

INC – Marian – IN

INC – Faulkner – AL
There are the grades for this mid-term report. Some of these students can improve while others might be cashing it in for the rest of the semester to blow spitwads at the rest of the class.  In the end we will find out who wants to improve and who is ready to settle.

 

You know what you have to do now, so go out and get it done!

NAIA Ramblings of Jason Dannelly for 9/20/2007: Contenders, Pretenders and Menders

OVERRATED – Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap
Catching an echo of the chant within the final seconds of the game Ohio Dominican head coach Dale Carlson took off his headset, waved his arms at the fans and yelled, “Stop That!”

Respect … that is what that’s about. I do not know if there are two more down to earth coaches in the NAIA than Kevin Donley of St. Francis and Dale Carlson of Ohio Dominican. The fact that Carlson wouldn’t allow something like that to happen moved him up a few notches in my book.  That along with the fact the fans did indeed “stop that”.

So this week we will get to see how Ohio Dominican does it on the road. ODU has had two tests this season with Tiffin and USF recently. Now they have to go into Saint Xavier’s stadium and try to beat the Cougars on their own field. This will not be an easy task.

SXU is rated #2 by the coaches and #4 by VSN. I firmly believe they can win this game and the timing for the victory is perfect. Both teams are coming off of their toughest games of the season. SXU narrowly escaped the Cavaliers in Canton, 13-10. This week’s contest will be much of the same in Chicago.

September Review
So where does this put us in terms of perspective for the season? Well I have seen some things I thought I would never see in NAIA football this year.

I have seen a perennial power start the season 1-3 (Georgetown). I have seen a sleeping giant awaken (Lindenwood), I have seen more points in two games than some teams score all season (Virginia-Wise vs. Bethel and Georgetown).

But the one thing that I have seen this season that I have not seen for a while is parity at the top of the NAIA. It seemed like for the longest time it was two teams … and then the rest of the NAIA.

Right now I feel like there are about eight teams that could win the NAIA title if the ball bounces the right way. Obviously the hottest team in the country right now is Ohio Dominican. They are coming off the biggest regular season victory since last season’s Montana-Northern victory over Carroll College in Havre where the Saints 20 plus game winning streak was snapped.

ODU looks like the golden child of the NAIA right now but do not be fooled, this is still a group of young men who have not won a championship in their conference yet. This week’s match up with Saint Xavier is probably an even bigger game than last week since it is on the road. Saint Xavier can make me a believer with a win over ODU and vice versa.

Sioux Falls looks like the solid #1 on paper but their performance two weeks ago against Morningside has a few people raising some eyebrows. Morningside moved the ball against them offensively and the Cougars were almost bitten in the backside by the Mustangs. I am not saying the USF “D” is suspect but I felt like they could do more to limit Morningside when in the end they didn’t.

Do not write off Saint Francis (IN). Remember those words. This is the NAIA; teams can win championships even with regular season losses. The loss by St. Francis is the best thing to happen to them since they started making it to the national championship. This team has to learn what it is like to come back 7 days after a loss and play another football game. That will only make them stronger in the end. Plus I want to hear about what a week of practice is like at USF after a loss!

Bethel (TN) is just a nasty football team. I love the running game of Bell and Smith who just seem to get it done every game. This team is coming along quite nicely. They had to replace some talented seniors and it looks like they have done so in time for their swing into the Mid South Conference. This Wildcat football team should not lose for the rest of the season. And with the national title in their backyard I would bet the ‘Cats would like to prowl in Savannah.

Carroll College seems to have all of the workings of a championship caliber team. They just have to find a way to get past each team in the Frontier twice. That won’t be easy as MSU-Northern continues to improve and Western will get a shot at the Saints in Dillon, MT. The Saints have to be strong on the road if they are to make yet another trip to Savannah.

The Lions of Lindenwood have roared yet again this season and look to be the strongest team in the HAAC. I think they are a legit title contender but they need to stay focused and on task the rest of the season. The Lions slipped out of title contention in their last appearance in the postseason to Hastings. The Lions need to continue to take it one game at a time and they will be fine.

Jamestown is currently unbeaten but I also feel like they have been untested. They had a couple nice wins in the beginning of the season but I want to see what they will do against the best in the DAC. I know the Jimmies will be prepared every week to get the job done but are they prepared to play a team like Sioux Falls in the first round of the postseason?  Right now they are the best in the DAC but that’s not going to get it done in the postseason.

Outside of that there are a few teams that could be considered dark horses but it is too early to guess on them. The way I see it is if you make the cut to the final 16 team in the NAIA Championship Series this year, then you have a shot at the title.

Great travel plans for this weekend and I hope to have all of the video and audio coming to you soon! I’ll see you in Chicago with a Cubs hat on my head, deep dish pizza in one hand and a Chicago Dog in the other.

NAIA Ramblings of Jason Dannelly 9/25/07: Heading to Ohio and the How Do They Do It’s

Especially if you start the season 0-4, 1-3 or something like that. There are not a lot of chances for you to still win a conference or make the postseason, but you keep plugging away for pride. I envy those players too. This is when you find out what you will be made of in the real world.

Just think being in a job and three weeks into the fourth quarter of the business year and your boss says there is no way the sales team is going to make the quarterly goals. Do you keep plugging away for pride or cash it in and just do enough to get by for the rest of the year? It’s the same scenario from football to the business world.

In all honesty if I could bring on employees right now I would hire the guys that I see major improvement from this day forward instead of the ones who have had it good for them since the beginning of the season. I want to see an 0-3 finish 7-3 because those are my type of guys. I want an 0-4 to go 6-4 and working for me in the future because in the end that is why 95% of us are here. To get an education and learn skills that will help us in the real world.

I do not care about 40 times or how many times you can bench 225. I want to know you never gave up when you were 0-4. I want to know that you didn’t skip class. That’s what I want.

The Big Games
Carroll vs. Montana Western: I figured I had better put this game first since the natives in Montana seemed to think that I overlooked the match up. It’s a great college football game and has major implications in the Frontier Conference. Given how the first part of the season has gone this game could be either for the tie or the outright victory of the Frontier Conference title. A title that has found its home in Helena, Montana for the past couple of years.

Montana Western has been a great surprise in the conference. I do not think that anyone except the backers in Dillon were thinking the Bulldogs would be off to this good of a start this season. In fact most of the estimates I saw from people in Big Sky country were for the Dawgs to finish last or near last in the conference.

Well so far Montana Western has proved most of those naysayer’s plus myself wrong and has won every one of their conference games going into this week’s battle in Helena. The only loss the Dawgs have this season is to IAA Big Sky member Eastern Washington, who is currently undefeated heading into this weekend.

Carroll College has continued with their winning ways and are undefeated after a 10-3 victory over MSU-Northern. It’s funny how from week to week the opinion and thought process behind the Saints changes like the moons.
One week fans are thinking they have the greatest team since the last national title. The next week they need to scrap the starting lineups and start over with a new offense.

Growing up in Nebraska it’s almost scary to when the Huskers had their dominance in the mid-nineties. From week to week fans lived and died with the QB play of Scott Frost. Touchdown Tommie Frazier won two titles for Nebraska. He then handed the program over to Scott Frost who didn’t win a national title in 1996. So for two years it seemed as if the vaunted Husker offense was the worse in the country despite the fact they kept winning and winning and winning with only one or two slips along the way. When they won the title in 1997, Scott Frost was anointed a Husker hero and all was right in the world. Hmm, Carroll fans … or should I say certain Carroll fans … sound familiar?

The coaches didn’t become stupid overnight, the playbook didn’t lose half of their pages and the field didn’t suddenly tilt 20 yards into the earth making it harder to move the ball up field. Carroll College is making the most out of what they have on this squad. They have a good team, great coaches and are good enough to win a national title.

Guess what … they might lose a game in the regular season. It happens. It doesn’t mean it is the end of the world. Let me play this weeks game out for you on paper… .

Montana-Western is going to get a lead in this football game. Heck they might even win this football game. I do not think they will but it is a distinct possibility given the “no fear” attitude in Dillon.

Carroll College will not get into a football game where the final score is 42-35 with the Bulldogs. It might be 21-10, or 17-3, or another 10-3 game with them coming out on top. If that’s the case I am sure on Monday the message board will be filled with “thank God for a great defense” posts.

And at the end of the day no one within the Carroll College football team will care … because they won. They will move on and they will get prepared for the next week of football. If they lose … they will move on and they will get prepared for the next week of football. That is just how the program works.

Western can beat Carroll, but I do not see it happening in Helena.

Ohio Dominican and St. Francis (IN)
The meeting that everyone knew was coming to the Mid-States Football Association. When Dale Carlson was announced as the first head coach of Ohio Dominican everyone in the NAIA knew that this day would be coming and the Panthers would become a power in the NAIA.

By the looks of things, that day might have come last year too as the Panthers lost in the final minutes in Fort Wayne, IN. But this season ODU will have USF on their home field in a game that could determine the road to the national championship.

Obviously each team has to play out the season, but look at what weighs on this game. The winner is in the driver’s seat to winning the MSFA league title. They still have to get past great teams like SXU, Malone and Walsh but they at least control their own destiny.

The winner will likely draw the 2nd or 3rd best team from an opposing conference in the first round of the playoffs making for a more manageable match up in the first round.

These two teams could likely win out through the playoffs and match up in the semifinals with the game being played at the higher seed IF the higher seed reaches the minimum to bid for the game. ODU could take some major advantages away from the Cougars if they were to do so.

The “what ifs” are endless with this one.

I really think ODU is a great football team and I am looking forward to flying into Columbus for the game this week. It will be a tremendous opportunity to see two of the best teams in the country going up against one another as well as two of the best coaches in the country.

The game? I think it goes to St. Francis. The aura around the Cougar football program just feels different this year and I think it leads them to a national title. It’s not a revenge thing anymore and it doesn’t seem like it is all about pride. I just get the feeling from USF that it is “what they are suppose to do” this season. There are no excuses … it is just about winning the games each week and bringing home a title.

ODU may surprise some people and get a win this week and I would be one of them. But I think at the end of the weekend we will find out the Panthers are still one of the top five in the country regardless if they lose to USF. They might have a blemish on their record but they will still be better than 86 other teams in the NAIA.

Wrapping them up and taking them down:
Bethel College (KS) @ Bethany College: Two undefeated’s in the KCAC. I think Bethel shows the talent gap between them and the Swedes. Bethany is a young team headed the right direction. It just will not happen this week.

Jamestown College @ Valley City State University: The PAINT BUCKET game! One of the best rivalries in college football regardless of division. JC is the better team on paper. But the game is in Valley and the Vikes need a win to turn around the season. This game will get CRAZY.

Lindenwood University @ Georgetown College: Name the last time GT lost two in a row in the same season? Name the last time they started 1-3? I cannot do it, which is why I think they win this week. LU can prove they are one of the best in the country with this victory. I haven’t seen the Ross era at LU have that “program defining win”. This is their chance.

MidAmerica Nazarene University @ Evangel University: So is MNU second best in the HAAC or can Evangel mix up the conference standing? The clouds are starting clear on the HAAC race but Evangel could bring in a storm front if they win this week.

Morningside College @ Concordia Univ: Hey Concordia … you lost …sorry … it was a heartbreaker … get over it. Because if you do not Morningside will beat you by thirty this week. I think CU shakes the heartbreak and gets the victory this week but they had better come prepared to play and not be reviewing any more game film of “the block”. If they have a college football mentality CU will come to play this week. If they do not … U-G-L-Y this week in Seward.

Northwestern College (IA) @ Hastings College: Okay Hastings, you have beaten everyone you are supposed to beat … now try to beat someone that you are not supposed to beat. This is the game that will make the Broncos a postseason contender or pretender. Broncos are greatly improved now they just have to believe they can do it.

<?xml:namespace prefix = st2 /><st2:sn w:st=”on”>Saint</SN> <st2:middlename w:st=”on”>Xavier</MIDDLENAME> <st2:sn w:st=”on”>University</SN> @ Walsh University: Walsh has been seen as #2 in their league for quite some time. But with SXU coming over and ODU improving again the Cavs have the chance to go from one of the best in the NAIA to a distant memory unless they can get some wins against some of the best in the NAIA. They are yet to beat St. Francis … can they get one against SXU? The home field will help but SXU looks really good this season.

Southern Nazarene University @ Azusa Pacific University: Great to see SNU making the trip to LA to play APU. This game will help me to judge how much APU has improved since week one. They have beaten a good Malone team, hung with one of the best in DIII and were two points from beating IAA Nichols State. SNU is a top 25 team in the NAIA and APU can help their cause for postseason if they get a win this week. SNU needs a big win after tripping up two weeks ago to Peru State.

Sterling College @ Northwestern Oklahoma State: This is awesome that the KCAC is scheduling NWOSU. The Rangers need more NAIA opponents so they can get a fair shake in the ratings. Sterling is an improved football team and will give NWOSU everything they want this week. But the Rangers are just more talented and will get the win.

University of Virginia’s College at Wise @ Bethel College: I said it in my picks this week and I will say it again. WISE NEEDS TO BE READY. They say last week was a programming defining win. Well this week they could get a programming defining loss on the road if they aren’t ready. I am not sure how good Bethel (TN) is right now. A win this week has me thinking late rounds of the NAIA post season. A loss has me thinking they might struggle down the stretch. I think Wise is the better team but don’t be surprised to see a huge crowd in McKenzie this week for one of the best games in the country!

That’s it for this week folks! Drive safe and enjoy your NAIA football!

NAIA Ramblings of Jason Dannelly from 9/20/2007: Peru State’s Finest Impact on VSN

I feel like I owe it to Peru State to come on by and see the place where these two coaches reached one of the highest points in their coaching careers since they meant so much to me as a player.

It’s weird how year’s later you can still feel a coach’s impact and how they changed your life whether they were around you for five years or five minutes. Brown and Korby did just that to me, in separate instances. I respected them both immensely and anyone who played defense at Dana during that time understands what I am talking about. Probably the same can be said for those players who played under them at Peru State.

Get the flashback music ready.
It was the start of my sophomore year of college football and I was on offense at Dana College. We had just undergone a change of offense in fall camp and weren’t using a fullback much which led to limited and split playing time on offense. After the second game of that season our middle linebacker hurt his back and it was thought that he would not play again for the rest of the season.

A good friend of mine, Jody Phillips, was on the coaching staff after his playing career had ended due to injury. He knew I was unhappy because I was not playing and asked if I would consider moving positions to play defense. I said “sure” because I wanted to play but he warned me … “I don’t know what Coach Brown will think. He’s kinda got his guys but you never know.”

I later found out that in that Sunday evening’s meeting Brown was adamant against me making the move to defense. Korby and Jody told him to “give him a week.”

So on Monday I was told I was moving to defense. I grabbed my white jersey and went about my business as a linebacker. Oh yeah, this was 20 minutes before practice started that I found out.

I can still remember Korby and Jody writing on little sticky notes in the coach’s office the different types of coverage and blitzes that I had to know. My head was spinning to say the least.

After a week at practice we had to face off against eventual NAIA postseason participant Hastings College. Naturally I was sitting about 2/3 on the depth chart at middle and strongside backer because I knew nothing … absolutely nothing.
In one week of practice I think all I had retained by game time was “tackle the guy with the ball.”

Well, Hastings was good … VERY good. Marc Boerighter was a wide receiver for them (eventual NFL player) and Josh Miller was the quarterback (All-American QB). They put up over 700 total yards of offense on us. Most of that in the first and second quarter.

I can’t even remember the score, but I remember Jody coming over to me with his headset on in the second quarter and saying “Brown wants to see what you can do. Don’t worry you can’t do much worse than what has happened so far.”

In I went. I played the rest of the game. Had a lot of fun and pretty much just ran around like an idiot which given our play that day was about par for the course.

The next day Brown was walking into the coach’s office as I was leaving the trainers room for treatment. Brown said “Hey Chipper, come here.”

Brown had this way of communicating that I just loved. It was like being called over by your grandfather. You knew when he was talking it was typically something important or that he meant business. He grabbed my elbow with his right hand and looked me in the eye through his thick glasses…

“Chipper, I owe you an apology. I doubted you and didn’t think you could be one of my guys… . You’re my type of guy.”
Then it was a quick pat on the back and he walked up the stairs. My heart felt about 10 times bigger and I knew that Brown was a special coach because of his honesty to me. I never had a coach, EVER come up to me and say he was sorry for a decision he made. But the sincerity in his voice and the look in his eyes made me believe he was something special.

The same could be said for his other Peru State counterpart Rondel Korbelik. Korby was the fiery coach that I loved. He said the right things when they needed to be said and had the respect of everyone on defense. Later my sophomore year I had a moment that made me realize that Korby “got it” as a coach and as a person. Of course it also involved Coach Brown.

We were playing our rival Midland Lutheran in Fremont. We were down something like 35-3 at halftime. Our defensive locker room was chatty and everyone was getting on one another. Coach Brown gave the most memorable halftime speech I have ever received to this day.
Brown shuffled in looking at the defensive play card.

He’d glance at it … then look up … he’d glance down again and back up. He did this for a minute until you could hear nothing in the locker room. He looked at Korby, Jody, and Coach Williams … then he looked at us and shook his head.

“Are we the worst damn defense in the nation?”
Pause … loooooooong pause.  Complete silence.

 

“I’m serious guys. I’ll even ask it again … are WE the worse damn defense in the nation? I’ve been reading the newspapers for two weeks. No one gives up 700 yards in a game. No one. Not all year. And you know what? We’re gonna do it twice in the same season?!?!
Pause … loooooooonger pause.

 

“So I’ll ask a third time … are WE the worse damn defense in the nation. Hell, don’t answer it fellas, get out there and do something about it. I’m through talking and listening to people talk about it, you need to start doing.”
After stunned silence we made our way back to the field. First drive of the second quarter Midland scored again and our defense came off the field. There was a lot of bickering and a lot of negativity.

 

I hated that. The finger pointing started and that’s when I let out a profanity laced tirade that would make the cast of “The Departed” blush.
At one point, I may or may not have told a senior what he could do with his football helmet and where it should be place upon his removal from the game.

 

After going “Alex Baldwin” on them, Korby grabbed my facemask … . stared in my eyes … and didn’t say a word. It seemed like we stared at one another for 30 minutes but it was more like 5 seconds. Korby let out a sly crooked smile and said the most meaningful words to me every as a player.
With a nod of his head he whispered. “Good”

 

We came back but lost in the end. I played the rest of the game and started the rest of the season. The week after Midland I ran into Korby on my way out of a Monday night team meeting. I remember the scene so vividly it’s almost like it was in a movie I have seen thirty times.
We were in between the campus center and the main campus building at Dana. Korby was walking with a group of coaches in front of me and glanced back to see I was walking out by myself. He slowed up to talk to me as the other coaches advanced on. He reached out and put his fist on my shoulder to talk to me.

“Chipper, all I have to say is keep doing what you are doing. I don’t care about how you play football. You’ve got character and you’ve got class. That’ll take you farther than knowing how to play cover two or plug a gap.”

That’s just how Korby was.  He’d take the time to say things like that to you and always had time for you as a person or player.
Going into my junior year we found out that Coach Brown’s cancer had gotten worse and that he wasn’t going to be able to coach that fall. So Korby moved into the roll of defensive coordinator. It’s hard to remember all of the talks Korby would have with us but I always felt like he was saying the right things. We just weren’t very good at playing football and doing what we were told to do.  But we got the message that he was trying to send.

The most memorable was his talk to the entire team about Peru State College football and when they won the national title. The subject was all about how they “got it” as a team. They knew what it was going to take to get there and that team just “got it”. As a team at Dana we had players that “got it” too, but not everyone “get’s it” and those people needed to either “get it” or “get out”. The intensity in which he told the story of the guys coming together inspired a lot of us; at least the ones that “got it”.

I’m sure everyone reading this has had this experience. That coach or person that changed their lives or at least kept them pointing in the right direction. So I almost feel this obligation after all of these years to go to Peru State and see a game, just for the sake of history. For my own history and for two of the guys who meant so much to me as coaches.

I’ll end this “Rambling” paying homage to Coach Brown. The article is over and I’ve done everything I can do this week to prepare for the job I am about to do. Everyone have a great week …

“The hay’s in the barn fellas … nothing left to do now but stack asses.”

NAIA Campus Report from 9/18/2007 by Jason Dannelly: Playing Football at Carroll College

Carroll College never disappoints. Whether it’s on the football field or with the people around the program; the Saints never disappoint. Since 2003 I have made an annual travel to Helena, MT to see the Saints play football. I’ve never walked away thinking the trip was less than expected.
 
From the game management, to the athletic staff, to the coaching staff and to the President everything is done with a purpose.  Everyone has a role with Carroll’s athletic department and they all understand what it is they need to do to make things a little better each week.

The first question I received from about ten different people on my cell phone on Saturday evening focused around one subject. “Are they good enough to do it again?”

I had two answers, one was a long drawn out analysis of an offense and defense revolving around the ins and outs of football and improvements that have been made over the last year.

The other was the simpler of the two: Yes.

The difference in the Saints from 06 to 07 is also very simple, experience. The Saints are deep on the offensive line and the group they have back on defense is nasty. Eastern Oregon’s Ian Shields felt the Saints just play at a totally different speed than everyone else they have faced.

You cannot see it on film but in person it is apparent. The Saints defense swarms opponents. The first guy is always there to slow up the play and there are six or seven other guys closing in fast to finish off the opponent. It is kind of like sending missiles into a battle zone. The first one catches everyone’s attention and the other six or seven do the damage.

But everyone knows that the Saints defense is going to be good. They are typically every year. The question mark last year and this year were if the offense would be good enough to carry this team through a tough postseason run.

This year’s offense just looks to be more in sync than last seasons. QB John Barnett still has a cannon but his throws look more relaxed and less forced than last year. Last year was kind of like that scene out of the movie “The Program” where the Heisman Trophy candidate Joe Kane is over and under throwing passes in fall camp and James Caan’s character says “Joe’s got too much pressure on him; he’s trying to win the Heisman on every pass.”

That’s what Barnett looked like to me last year at Carroll. This season he looks like a guy who’s just out throwing the ball around to his buddies. And his “buddies” have yet another year of experience.

Speaking of “buddies” I do have to mention my time away from football at Carroll College. Through the years and the annual visits to Nelson Stadium I find myself running into a lot of the same people. From that I have made quite a few good friends which goes to show you the welcoming environment at Carroll College.

Most of the people I have chummed around with were on the first national championship team in 2002. They are definitely a good group of guys and I have no problems sitting back and listening to them tell stories from back in the day. It is just fun to hear from them plus see how much their lives have changed from the championship in 2002 until the present day as they all work “real jobs” and get on with life after football. I heard plenty of stories from Shane Larson, Nick Porrini and Matt Vantresca this past weekend. I also learned from them that library’s are “intense”. (Yes, we’ll go ahead and reference that line as “inside joke” … glad you could play along.)

Carroll College almost never disappoints and the team that I saw playing Eastern Oregon on Saturday was the type of team that I could see hoisting the hardware in Savannah, TN come December. There is no easy road for the Saints this year as the Frontier Conference will be extremely tough with the surge of Montana-Western and the tough games to come against Montana Tech and MSU-Northern.
 
I guess that’s when we will find out who is better at “playing the football.”

I’ll see you this week at homecoming in Peru, Nebraska as Iowa Wesleyan takes on the Bobcats!