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NDSU DECISION: School to make move to Division I

It was considered as certain as winter in Fargo-Moorhead. North Dakota State Athletic Director Gene Taylor told a standing-room only Alumni Center crowd Friday afternoon the school will pursue Division I status beginning in 2003-04. NDSU will lea...

It was considered as certain as winter in Fargo-Moorhead.

North Dakota State Athletic Director Gene Taylor told a standing-room only Alumni Center crowd Friday afternoon the school will pursue Division I status beginning in 2003-04.

NDSU will leave the North Central Conference in May 2004 and play a mostly Division I schedule in 2004-05.

"This is a big decision, one that will change the direction of this program for many years to come," Taylor said.

Despite discussion that has been on-going for almost a year, Taylor said his final decision came gradually in the last two weeks. He didn't sleep Thursday night, perhaps because of the significance of NDSU leaving 80 years of NCC and Division II tradition.

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"I would call this huge," said NDSU President Joseph Chapman. "It's a big event."

NDSU could have declared its Division I intent effective immediately, but Taylor delayed the process for one year to give the school time to find a conference and to give current student-athletes an opportunity to transfer.

NDSU will be ineligible for post-season competition for four years beginning in 2004.

Taylor said finding a Division I league will be his priority in the coming months. Without a conference, piecing together a required Division I schedule by next fall would have been difficult, he said.

Plus, he said, it gives other NCC schools a window to join Division I.

"There were several ultimate reasons in why we did this," Taylor said. "There wasn't one that stood out."

Chapman, in a theme he has repeated for months, said athletics going Division I is part of a universitywide mandate for each department to find a higher level.

"If we're a Division I university, then we need a Division I athletics program," Chapman said. "I know this will cause us to take a calculated risk."

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It's a risk that will require patience on behalf of Bison fans, Taylor said. Without the chance at a national tournament until 2008-09, recruiting will most likely suffer.

But he said the move was overdue: 30 schools NDSU used to compete against are currently Division I, including the University of Montana, Montana State and Northern Iowa.

"I want to keep pace," he said.

Friday morning Taylor gave his recommendation to Chapman, who in turn notified the NCC and the NCAA of NDSU's intent.

It ended a year-long information crusade that included OKs from a consultant, a marketing firm and a leadership committee.

"Very stressful, the last few days in particular," Taylor said. "The magnitude of it; finally making it, and then asking: 'Is this really the thing to do?' But in the last 24 to 48 hours I started to feel better about it."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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