SMSU an AMCU power

By Jeff Kirik

Before NIU and Akron can win their first Association of Mid-Continent Universities title, they will have to battle a Bear.

The Bears of Southwest Missouri State have become the AMCU’s conference power, winning the league’s all-sport trophy the past three years. NIU and Akron, who joined the AMCU in June, are two of the nine teams faced with the task of dethroning SMSU in 1989-90.

In 1988-89, the Bears won conference titles in five of the nine sports in which the AMCU offers championship competition. In earning the all-sports award, SMSU had to win titles in basketball, baseball, tennis, swimming and golf.

The Bears won the conference’s basketball championship by posting a 21-10 overall record and a 10-2 league mark. They also won the AMCU’s post-season tourney before losing a 60-51 decision to eventual runner-up Seton Hall in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The AMCU, which looks upon basketball as its top sport, finished the 1988-89 season ranked 18th out of the nation’s 34 conferences in the final season power ratings. Northern Iowa placed second in the conference with marks of 19-9 and 8-4. The only other team with a winning overall record was a Cleveland State squad (16-12) that was barred from competing in the league after it was placed on NCAA probation.

NIU will compete in six AMCU sports: basketball, golf, soccer, tennis, swimming and baseball. The Huskies’ golf, tennis and swimming teams will begin their conference play in the upcoming season, while the basketball and soccer squads will see their first AMCU action in 1990-91. NIU plans to rebuild its baseball program in time for the 1990-91 campaign. The university dropped its baseball team in 1982 for budgetary reasons.

The Huskie football, wrestling and gymnastic teams will remain independent.

In other league sports, Eastern Illinois and Cleveland State tied for the top spot in the 1988-89 AMCU soccer race. Meanwhile, EIU claimed both indoor and outdoor track titles, and UNI took the cross country honors. Western Illinois was another university that performed well in AMCU action despite not winning a title. WIU placed second in four sports and third in four others on its way to finishing second in the conference’s all-sports race. Illinois-Chicago, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Valparaiso are the other three conference schools.

The AMCU was formed in 1982 and stayed an eight-team league until June, when it allowed NIU and Akron to become members. Conference Commissioner Jerry Ippoliti has close ties with NIU, where he once served as football coach and athletic administrator.

The AMCU has an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, which has been claimed by SMSU the last three seasons. Against AMCU competition last year, the Huskie cagers struggled to a 1-6 record, defeating only Eastern Illinois. They also lost both of their contests with Akron. The Zips closed the season with a 21-8 record but did not compete in post-season play.

NIU’s men’s and women’s programs had been 11-year members of the Mid-American Conference before going independent in 1986. Four of the Huskies women’s sports, including the basketball team, joined the North Star Conference in 1987. That move paid off earlier this year when NIU earned the North Star’s all-sports trophy. The Huskies won two league titles (softball and volleyball) and were the runners-up in two other sports (tennis and basketball).