The Frontier Conference is a fine concept. My biggest concern is that it’s never been quite large enough, though – granted – there are not many universities in the Northwest region. So, we’ve beefed up the conference and renamed it the Pacific Sun. For those following a vegetarian diet, we've tofu'ed up the conference. The big news about Ideal’s Pac-Sun, and something you’ll notice when you look at the roster above, is the omission of Carroll. I realize the Saints have been Frontier members for a mighty long time, and are the signature program in the league. However, the more I looked at it (and believe me, I stared at it for a good long time), the more it seemed as though Carroll belonged in the Northwest Conference (see my capsule for the NWC in Division 6). I realize this may be a controversial move for some of you, and ask that you give it an opportunity to breathe. The Pac-Sun feels more like a conference for the Northwest directional schools and their ilk. So, to that end, we’ve got Central and Western Washington (the latter resurrected); Northern and Western Montana; Eastern, Western and Southern Oregon; Idaho College and Northern Idaho (L-C St); Montana Tech and Oregon Tech (the latter resurrected); and the Rocky Mountain Bears. Tofu or not, this makes for a damn fine conference, and one that is more conceptually consistent.
Prairie = KCAC. My vision for the Prairie Conference was for it to be inhabited exclusively by Kansas schools. Why so? Because there are that many NAIA Kansas schools, and they want to play on the same jungle gym. I took a poll. At recess. Nine schools currently are in both conferences, ie they converge between the NCAA and Ideal. Two of the divergences are easily solved. OK Wesleyan and York are not in Kansas; they are booted in favor of the return of Baker and Benedictine. Granted, the Wildcats left 40+ years ago and the Ravens bolted so long ago they were still known as St Benedict’s College. No matter, they’re in the Prairie. Our coup de grace involves swapping out St Mary for St Mary. You read that right, and have not fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole (well, you might’ve, but not because of Ideal…and have a nice trip regardless). We’re replacing the University of St Mary with the disinterred and fully-functional-in-every-respect St Mary of the Plains. You gotta love Kansas.
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When I was a young man, around the time that hominids came down from the trees, it positively baffled me that there was a North Dakota conference (NDCAC) and a South Dakota conference (SDIC), each with only six members, and they hadn’t thought to merge. Seriously, who’s in charge of these things? Somebody finally did think of it, because the merger happened in 2000, though only 10 of the schools migrated to the new Dakota Athletic Conference. Since then, several of these schools have moved to NCAA D-II, while those remaining in the NAIA have drifted into different conferences. Dumb. When you have a configuration such as this (six schools in ND, six schools in SD), you freakin' make this your conference. Good lord a'mighty, this is basic common sense. Needless to say, all 12 of these schools (with Huron risen from the grave) comprise the aptly named Northern Plains Athletic Conference. Consider the NPAC Ideal’s contribution to Dakota peace and harmony.
We conclude our tour of Division 9 with the Central States Football League (CSFL). Ideal’s Central States remotely resembles the one you may be accustomed to in the NAIA. Five current and three former members are present and in their locker rooms, preparing for battle. This includes the recently-eliminated Haskell Indian Nations. You could’ve guessed that, right? Nothing stays dead around here. Speaking of dead, can I get a hallelujah? Paul Quinn has also arisen. We’re welcoming Harding and Incarnate Word into the league, and awarding a team to Oklahoma S&A. Hey, scientists and artists love football. And there is your new and improved Central States Football League.
Heart of America
Univ of St Mary KS
Much like the Dakota schools who are now united in the Northern Plains (see above), I have long envisioned a Kentucky/Tennessee conference that would unite the main NAIA schools of this region. A league of their own. Welcome to the Tennessee Valley Athletic Conference (TVAC). The closest NAIA analog is the Mid-South, where only six full members play football. Five of those schools are here (Georgetown, Campbellsville, both Cumberlands and Pikeville). Of the seven affiliate members, all of whom are on the gridiron, we only have two in the TVAC: Bethel and Union. How did we fill out the TVAC roster? Easy. Lambuth digs their team out of the damp earth, and expansion programs are instituted at Milligan, Transylvania, Trevecca and Berea. Don’t worry about the Mid-South schools that aren’t in the TVAC. I have a hunch they'll be making their presence felt in Division 10.
Northwestern College IA
Robert Morris IL
St Francis IL
St Francis IN
IDEAL COLLEGE FOOTBALL
Southwestern College KS
St Mary of the Plains
College of Idaho
Eastern Oregon State
Northern Idaho (Lewis-Clark St)
Northern Montana (MSU-Northern)
Southern Oregon State
Western Oregon State
There is an overflow of NAIA football schools in the Midwest (as mentioned above in the MSFA capsule), and it seemed as though one solution - probably the only viable solution – was to initiate a new conference. Nothing wrong with more conferences. Known as the Eastern Plains Athletic (EPAC), this new league covers Illinois/Iowa/Missouri, and harbors many universities who are part of the NAIA MSFA. Six, in fact (Olivet, Trinity, St Francis, Robt Morris, St Ambrose and Belleville), and three others who are former members (McKendree, Grand View and Wm Penn). Henceforth, we will be referring to the EPAC as MSFA Lite. Just kidding. This is a conference that is going to take some time to define itself, to develop its own personality. And let’s not rule out some changes in membership prior to Season 2. Dropping more hints, it’s kinda our thing.
Look, I’ll admit it, the wealth of Midwestern NAIA schools presents a challenge in constructing conferences. There is a wealth of possibilities. I look at current conferences and attempt to reconcile them with the historical record, with the geography, with the type of school. Yes, constructing Ideal conferences is inherently a subjective enterprise, and I’ve attempted to do so with the public in mind. How should these colleges and universities be arranged to provide for maximum enjoyment for the most people? Not everyone is going to agree with all of my decisions, and that’s okay. Complete uniformity is a drag. Let’s have some debate. It’s good for the blood. It is with that spirit that I present the Heart of America. Ideal’s Heart and the NAIA version have seven schools in common (Avila, Central Meth, Culver-Stockton, Evangel, Graceland, MNU and MoVal). Former members Lindenwood, Wm Jewell and Tarkio (resuscitated) are present and accounted for. MoBap and St Mary complete the roster. This is a solid Heart of America. And to continue our new-found tradition of dropping hints and blowing minds, there will be some membership changes for Season 2 that will throw the Heart into even sharper relief.
Black Hills State
South Dakota Tech (SD Mines)
Valley City State
The Mid-States Football Association (MSFA) has been through a lot of changes since its inception in 1993. The kids went off to college, grandma and grandpa moved back in…..it’s been a real challenge. Thankfully, there's been football to take our minds off the family. Truth be told, there are a lot of NAIA schools in the Midwest, and membership in these conferences has been fluid. I expected to have a challenge putting these leagues together. You can imagine my shock and surprise that six - six, I say - of the charter members of the NAIA MSFA (Findlay, Malone, St X, Taylor, Tiffin and Urbana) are also charter members of Ideal’s MSFA. I wasn't expecting that. Marian and St Francis are current members in both. So, eight schools that were charter or are current members of both MSFA’s. Walsh, another former member – though not a charter member – is here, as well. We’re up to nine schools, and this is blowing my mind! New programs are being instituted at Cedarville and Goshen, filling out our inaugural roster of the MSFA. Inaugural, but not final. Dropping hints, am I? Yup, dropping hints and blowing minds. It’s what we do at Ideal.
The Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) only took on its current name in 2000, although it has been lurking under different monikers since 1969. Membership has been fairly stable, though – like nearly all conferences – it has started getting wacky in the past couple of decades. Dakota Wesleyan has joined the NAIA GPAC, and you already know they’ve been returned to their Dakota brethren in the NPAC (see above). If you’ve been reading along this whole time (and I really hope you have, these capsules took a long time to put together), you can also guess that we’re bringing Dana back from the grave. The Vikings ride again! Sail again? Nebraska Wesleyan is back in the fold, an obvious move. Peru St has been added, as well. And just to go completely 80’s retro (no excuses needed here), we’re bringing back both Yankton and SD-Springfield from the deep freeze. Rock on, GPAC! Oh, and because a hint drop [drop hint? hint of droppings?] now seems mandatory, there will be a membership shuffle between the GPAC and UPAC prior to Season 2.
Copyright © Steven Sugarman