Is NIU boarding a sinking ship?


A familiar saying is being whispered around the circles of those involved in NIU’s Intercollegiate Athletic programs.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

They are referring to the proposed move from the Mid-Continent Conference to— you guessed it—another conference. Earlier this semester athletic director Gerald O’Dell and his staff contemplated moving the athletic programs at NIU to the Missouri Valley Conference.

Now sources close to the Star have revealed another possible venture O’Dell and his staff may be considering.

NIU is contemplating a move to the Midwest Collegiate Conference, made up of Loyola of Chicago, Xavier, LaSalle, University of Detroit-Mercy, Butler, Notre Dame (except men’s basketball) and Evansville.

Evansville, however, has just jumped ship and found higher ground in the Missouri Valley Conference.

The MCC is rumored to be on the verge of extinction and to avoid this fate it has been in contact with various other schools, including a mix of Mid-Con teams.

Xavier and Loyola are both pursuing the possibilities of moving to other conferences, while O’Dell is in the process of listening to the proposals of the MCC.

Of all the coaches that were contacted, without exception, all said that they are happy in the Mid-Con. O’Dell hasn’t let any of the coaches in on exactly what is going on and continues to keep them in the dark.

“There are a lot of rumors floating around which are, as far as I am concerned, unsubstantiated,” said men’s head soccer coach Willy Roy. “I think Gerald has the foresight and respect for the coaches to include us in any preliminary talks to move to another conference.”

“I would say that Gerald’s job is to do what’s best for the program,” said women’s head basketball coach Jane Albright-Dieterle. “Probably what he’s doing now is collecting information that would help him decide, I don’t think that would mean we are interested or we aren’t.”

One of the overwhelming factors why NIU wants to stay in the conference has to do with the geographic rivalries that are being established. This is just NIU’s third year in the conference, but the teams have already begun to feel the intensity of a conference matchup.

“We have some geographic rivalries in the (Mid-Con) and I think as far as our recruiting, one of the main reasons we can be successful is because we play people from around here,” said Albright-Dieterle.

As far as specific sports go, Jack Pheanis – the head coach of the men’s golf team and head volleyball coach Pete Waite both feel the move wouldn’t benefit their programs one way or another. However, Waite made it clear that he and the rest of th coaches should be consulted before any decision is made.

“I think it would be unfortunate if the coaches weren’t asked their opinions to see if it’s going to be a good choice in the long run,” Waite said. “I think they should let us know what’s going on as far as what the administration is thinking.”

This attitude of jumping from conference to conference every time the grass looks greener on the other side was unheard of in the early 1980s. But when Penn State found a new home in the Big Ten it was as if somebody let all the marbles out of the jar and everybody went scrambling to find the best possible mix to suit their needs.

The result has been overkill, but what it all boils down to is money.

“I think its a national trend,” said softball coach Dee Abrahamson. “Money has a lot to do with this because many schools are having trouble staying in the black. That’s why Penn State went to the Big 10.”

Abrahamson, who knows several high ranking officials in the more elite conferences, is looking for big changes across the country in the next few years.

“The Southwest Conference is going to be a whole lot different (in the future),” Abrahamson said. “Right now they’re talking to Oklahoma and Nebraska from the Big Eight about forming a super-conference. This would leave the other schools out in the cold searching (to form new alliances.)

“It’s kind of like a musical chair game … when somebody stops the music, everybody’s scrambling for a conference.”

Hopefully NIU won’t be the one left standing.