NIU not hurrying conference hunt

By Jeff Kirik

It appears the NIU men’s basketball program will play an additional, different type of game for at least another year—a waiting game.

Coach Jim Rosborough and Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell have made it known that NIU is searching for a men’s basketball conference. But now it looks like they might have to wait awhile.

Since that quest for a conference began, the league that stood out as the best possibility for future NIU affiliation was the Association of Mid-Continent Universities (AMCU). However, that door shut—for at least a year—about two weeks ago at the NCAA convention when the AMCU schools voted not to expand.

O’Dell seems optimistic about NIU’s chances of eventually becoming an AMCU member. This optimism stems from the AMCU’s forming a committee to study the advantages and disadvantages of expanding the league.

“My reaction to them not expanding is it’s not the end of the world, because I knew it would be probably two years before we would be able to play anyhow,” said O’Dell, adding that schedule difficulties would have made the Huskies unable to play in the league immediately.

However, he said, “If the AMCU would have decided to expand, we would have made a formal application, or I would have asked our athletic board to support a formal application to the AMCU.”

O’Dell said he believes the AMCU’s decision not to expand had little to do with NIU.

“The AMCU’s message was not that Northern is not attractive,” he said. “It’s just whether they want to expand. I don’t think it was a negative response from the AMCU or any other conference.

“From a very honest standpoint, the AMCU is very attractive to us. It’s a regional conference. The (Missouri) Valley really isn’t a regional conference for us. Not that we wouldn’t be interested in the Valley—we would be. But the AMCU is very attractive,” he said.

One alternative to waiting for the AMCU to make up its mind would be the formation of a new conference. O’Dell said several non-regional schools have contacted him about forming a new league.

However, he said he believes making a new conference would be a mistake because NIU would not play regional opponents and because a new league would be ineligible for an automatic NCAA Tournament bid for several years.

O’Dell expressed his philosophy about the search for a conference, saying, “Let’s try to be wise—not right or wrong. Let’s try to be wise. Let’s not make a mistake.”