USD making smooth DI transition

USD making smooth DI transition
To say Joel Nielsen has his hands full right now may be a bit of an understatement.

At the same time, however, there's no frazzled edge to his voice, no reason to feel alarmed.

There's a sense that in a world of dynamic change, Nielsen is able to keep pace with both the expected and the unexpected.

The University of South Dakota is in the midst of its transition to NCAA Division I. USD President Jim Abbott gave the go-ahead in the fall of 2006 for the Coyotes to make the move from NCAA Division II, citing his concerns about the future of D-II and the North Central Conference in particular. The NCC eventually announced it will fold after 2008, adding urgency to the USD decision.

The South Dakota Board of Regents approved the D-I request, with stipulations, in December 2006. Nielsen and the rest of the athletic department immediately hit the ground running as they began the five-year transition to D-I.

"We're actually in the stage of completing our last year in Division II, and our last year with the North Central Conference as our affiliation," Nielsen said.

He noted that the 2007-08 academic and athletic year at USD won't be much difference than past years "as far as the competition we play and at the division that we play."

Next year, he said, will be

the first into the Division I transition.

"That will be the year that we will see different opponents; we'll see different scheduling from the standpoint that other than football, there's not much of a chance for our other 16 sports to have a conference home," Nielsen said. "It's likely that those 16 sports will be playing an independent schedule whereas football gained admission in the Great West Conference starting in 2008."

SDSU and NDSU have been members of that conference for the past three years, and will be leaving it after this season.

"In 2008, USD football and North Dakota will join the Great West which includes Southern Utah, Cal-Davis and Cal-Poly," he said.

The Great West Conference, in its four years of existence, "is a very well thought out league … and I do know the conference is interested in growing its membership," Nielsen said. "We're definitely committed to it for the near future."

The Great West is for football only. USD's other sports will be actively seeking conference memberships. "We have sent a letter of interest into the Summit League, which is a midwestern Division I league, which would include all of the other 16 sports," Nielsen said.

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