Women’s athletics joins league

By Jeff Kirik

The NIU women’s athletic program officially gained membership to the North Star Conference Wednesday after the Athletic Board voted to accept a formal invitation from the league.

As a result, NIU will join Notre Dame, DePaul, Marquette, Dayton and Valparaiso in its affiliation with the conference. The decision came after the board met in executive session with NIU President John LaTourette for about 45 minutes.

The North Star Conference first made the formal invitation to NIU in January. Since then, LaTourette and women’s Athletic Director Susie Pembroke-Jones had discussed the move with the board, the NIU Athletic Review Committee and other university officials.

“Since we left the Mid American Conference a year and a half ago, we’ve been looking for alternatives,” Pembroke-Jones said. “We feel very, very positive about the move. We’ll be able to recruit and compete more successfully.

“These schools have very good reputations academically and athletically. They picked us because we have very high standards in both academics and athletics,” she said.

Although NIU has been accepted into the conference, it will not begin competition until the fall. The conference’s sports programs include basketball, softball, tennis, and volleyball.

NIU beat out six other schools for the invitation to the conference, but would not mention the names of the institutions, LaTourette said.

“There were seven institutions considered and we received the one offer,” he said. “That shows you how highly the conference thinks of us.”

The NIU teams will gain full affiliation to the conference. New schools often are given a limited associate membership to conferences for a couple of years.

“I think it’s a very good marriage between our interests and the conference’s interests. We both wanted quality,” LaTourette said. “We have a very high percentage of athletes who graduate. We also have high admission standards. They were looking for those types of things.”

Pembroke-Jones said prestige was a main factor in NIU’s choice to join the conference. “They are institutions that we want to be known with, to be affiliated with and recruit against,” she said.

LaTourette also said the North Star Conference could give the women’s athletic program more exposure. “Our institution and the media can relate to these schools better because they are also based in the Chicago area,” he said. “People in this area know more about these institutions than they did about the MAC schools.”

The move comes in the midst of an internal review of NIU’s athletic department. LaTourette said the review committee reacted positively to the affiliation.

“They (the review committee) feel there is no problem with this type of affiliation,” he said. “We had two parallel things (the conference affiliation and the athletic review) going on at the same time. The review committee feels there is no conflict with the work of the committee.”

Women’s basketball coach Jane Albright said NIU purposely scheduled games with North Star teams this year because it was hoping to be admitted to the conference.

“We had anticipated this is the conference we wanted to be in,” she said. “This is the best conference for us. We had anticipated affiliation with this conference so we scheduled many of them (the conference’s schools) this year.”

Albright’s team has played Notre Dame, Marquette, DePaul, and Dayton so far this season. NIU has defeated Notre Dame and Dayton while falling to the other two teams. The Huskies still have games remaining with both Notre Dame and Marquette.

Albright credits Pembroke-Jones as being one of the main reasons NIU was chosen.

“Susie Pembroke-Jones was a big drawing card,” Albright said. “She is on the NCAA Women’s Basketball Committee. That’s very prestigious. They (the North Star conference) know she’s a good administrator and that had to help.”