Minnesota Duluth football coach Curt Wiese called Tuesday a wild day for the NSIC, and a wild day for the game of football.
Fans of both might call it a sad day, as well, as news broke of NSIC schools St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Crookston dropping their football programs, effective immediately, citing budget concerns.
While Crookston struggled, going 2-64 over the last six years and not winning two games in a season since 2013, St. Cloud State usually was one of the better teams in the NSIC North Division.
“It’s always been a competitive rivalry and this year was no different,” Wiese said of UMD’s 20-14 home victory over the Huskies on Sept. 21 at Malosky Stadium. “It was a tough, physical football game.”
Since UMD rejoined the NSIC in 2008, the Bulldogs have only lost three North Division games, two to the Huskies and one to Northern State. UMD and St. Cloud State also met at Malosky Stadium in the NCAA Division II playoffs in 2010, with the Bulldogs winning a classic, 20-17, in overtime en route to their second national championship.
“We’ll miss it,” Wiese said. “The ‘Battle for the Bone’ rivalry against St. Cloud State has been part of our football program for a long time.”
Both Wiese and UMD athletic director Josh Berlo were careful with their comments, not wanting to disrespect the other schools or the league while being sensitive to their financial situations.
Berlo stuck to his released statement, saying he was aware the two NSIC institutions were dropping football while adding that “UMD Athletics is as committed as ever to Bulldog Football and the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. We are excited for the upcoming 2020 season.”
Wiese didn’t know what will happen as far as conference realignment. In recent years, there were eight teams in both the NSIC North and South divisions, with both St. Cloud State and Crookston in the North.
St. Cloud State is also cutting men’s and women’s golf while adding men’s soccer to comply with Title IX regulations, citing the groundbreaking 1972 law that prohibits gender discrimination at educational institutions receiving federal assistance.
The Huskies looked into cutting football in 2010, but they couldn’t if they were to remain in the NSIC; the news, however, undoubtedly couldn’t have helped recruiting. Last week, perhaps realizing the changing and often difficult financial landscape of college athletics, the league waived the football restriction, opening the door for St. Cloud State and Crookston to drop football while remaining NSIC members.
Crookston, meanwhile, known for agricultural education and research, struggled recruiting to a small town in northern Minnesota that lacked the history or tradition of longer standing programs like UMD.
While St. Cloud State's Husky Stadium is one of the nicer venues in the league, Crookston lagged behind, something football coach Mark Dufner talked about after the Golden Eagles were trounced 63-0 by UMD on Nov. 2 at Malosky Stadium.
“It starts at the top. We need resources,” Dufner said. “You need money, and you need facilities. It is what it is.”
St. Cloud State, in particular, has produced its share of star players, including in the last 25 years alone all-time leading rusher Matt Birkel, all-time leading passer Phillip Klaphake and 13-year NFL quarterback Todd Bouman, who played in six games for the Vikings and also had a stint with the Green Bay Packers.
UMD and St. Cloud State’s recruiting paths often crossed, with Klaphake, of Princeton, Minn., choosing the Huskies over the Bulldogs in 2009.
For the student-athletes affected by Tuesday’s announcement, the NSIC is waving its interconference transfer restrictions, meaning Huskies and Golden Eagles football players are free to transfer to any other NSIC schools. They would be immediately eligible.
Wiese said he doesn’t know the ins and outs of St. Cloud State or Crookston, or their financial situations completely, so he said it wasn’t right to comment any further on it.
“It’s tough,” Wiese said. “I’m just very grateful and appreciative of the administration and the support we have at UMD, and the support we have of our conference. I’m fortunate and grateful to be in the position I’m in.”