'They’ve been great members' : Upper Iowa set to leave the NSIC for Great Lakes Valley Conference
Upper Iowa is leaving the 16-team NSIC after this school year for a new conference.
MOORHEAD — The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference will have one less member after this school year.
The NSIC announced Tuesday, Nov. 29, that Upper Iowa has notified the league office that the Peacocks have accepted an invitation to the Great Lakes Valley Conference.
“The biggest thing right now is putting together conference schedules for all of our conference sports for next year (2023-2024) and they’re all going to be impacted," said Minnesota State Moorhead athletic director Chad Markuson. "That’s our No. 1 priority.”
Upper Iowa will remain fully eligible to compete in NSIC championships for 2022-2023. Upper Iowa will end its affiliation with the NSIC in June.
"While a conference never likes to lose a valued member, the NSIC wishes Upper Iowa University the best of luck as they enter this new phase for their institution," said NSIC commissioner Erin Lind. "Upper Iowa's candid approach through this process, along with open lines of communication between the GLVC and the NSIC has provided us the opportunity to be prepared for the news."
The NSIC currently has 16 members, including MSUM.
In men's and women's basketball, the NSIC has two eight-team divisions with Upper Iowa competing in the South Division. The conference has two seven-team divisions in football with Upper Iowa also in the South Division. The NSIC is currently slated to have 15 teams for men's and women's basketball and 13 football teams for next school year. Volleyball is also set to have 15 teams next season.
“There’s definitely some pros that come in with an even number, in particular with how our league has traditionally scheduled," Lind said.
Football and men's and women's basketball are the three sports that have divisions.
“I think the biggest thing on the league structure is that each of our sports is that we’re going to have to re-evaluate what is the best way to proceed," Markuson said.
Lind said some scheduling concepts have been looked at in the past that could be used if the conference remains at an odd number of teams for certain sports. Not all schools have every sport that the NSIC sponsors.
“We’ve got a lot of legwork done," Lind said of potential scheduling concepts. “We feel good about being able to do that in an efficient manner.”
Lind said the league would like to have the league schedules for the falls sports — for the 2023-2024 school year — completed by the end of January if not sooner, the winter sports by the end of March and the spring sports in April or May.
The NSIC football schedule is currently a closed schedule, which means programs only play against conference opponents. If football remains at 13 teams, each program would have conference bye week built into the 11-week window to play games. That could leave the possibility for football teams to play nonconference opponents.
“I would say our schools will have the autonomy in their bye week to do what it is they wish to do," Lind said.
However, only a handful of football teams are going to have bye weeks early in the schedule when it would be more conducive to finding a nonconference matchup if a school chooses. Lind said generally three teams would have a bye the first week of the season and then one team for each of the final 10 weeks. Teams with a late-season bye would likely have a more difficult time finding another game with other leagues in the midst of their conference play.
Upper Iowa is a travel partner with Winona State for basketball and that format will likely have to be altered.
“With travel partners, we’re going to have to revisit what that would look like," Markuson said.
Augustana had announced its intention to transition to NCAA Division I athletics in all sports, but that has been put on pause while the school focuses on launching a D-I men's ice hockey program. For now, the school's other sports programs are remaining in Division II.
Markuson was asked if adding a team would be a solution to get NSIC sports like basketball, football and volleyball back to an even number of teams.
“We’re a very strong and very stable league in the landscape, we need to approach any kind of expansion with that mindset," Markuson said. "We’re not in a desperation where we just need a school to fill that.”
Lind said the NSIC is working with an outside consulting firm to solidify a conference identity and see what attributes would be for potential new members if that is the direction the conference would want to pursue. Lind said it's yet to be determined if the league would take an active approach to membership or stay with the remaining members after Upper Iowa leaves.
“That work that we’re doing with that outside consulting group is significant," Lind said. "It will position our league well into the future.”
The GLVC is a Division II conference and Upper Iowa will become the league's 14th member next school year. The Great Lakes Valley Conference currently has 13 members with schools in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri.
“I’m happy for Upper Iowa," Markuson said. "It’s a good move for them. They’ve been great members of the (NSIC) while they were here and they will be for the rest of this year.”