If ‘Augie’ joins the Summit, Denver should exit

The Summit League packed up their office in the Chicago suburbs and moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota this year. The conference’s annual men’s and women’s basketball tournaments are held in Sioux Falls. And now, it appears that Augustana University, located in Sioux Falls, is looking at the possibility of moving to DI and joining the Summit League according to KELO radio in Sioux Falls and WDAZ TV in Fargo. According to reports,  Augustana’s new athletic director, Josh Morton, is exploring the feasibility of a move to a higher athletics division and conference.

And it looks like the Summit League is ready to welcome an Augustana move with open arms. With an expressed desire of adding a 10th team for conference balance, Augustana joins a small list of possible candidates for conference expansion.

Augustana is a private university located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with approximately 2,000 undergraduates – approximately the same size as Colorado College. Said to be founded in 1860 (under various names), the school’s teams are named the Vikings and Augustana sponsors 14 sports. Their current annual athletic budget is $10.3 million per year. And the tiny annual budget covers football as well. In total, their budget is half of South Dakota State University, their Summit League neighbor.

While Augustana has a distinguished Division II history, this addition merely adds another Dakotas team to the mix and turns the conference into an even more regional conference than it was before – with little or no interest for Denver fans, alumni and students. And, there is still a fair amount of speculation about Fort Wayne eventually exiting the Summit League to pursue Horizon League membership – former league member IUPUI bolted there last season. And, who knows if Western Illinois budget issues will allow them to remain a DI program and whether Oral Roberts wants to bolt the Dakotas-centric league, too? One could easily conclude that nearly all the non-Dakotas members would look to exit if they had a meaningful alternative. And this move just makes the situation worse.

Sanford Health, located in Sioux Falls, is the largest and most influential sponsor of the Summit League. Sanford Health CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft is publicly on-record supporting the move. And, three miles from campus, the Denny Sanford Premier Center would likely host Vikings’ games. Very convenient.

Rather than adopting an aggressive approach to growth like many other Division I conferences commissioners, Summit Commissioner Tom Douple seems more interested in elevating regional  Division II programs and growing the Dakotas footprint. While there are more established programs like New Mexico State University, Montana State University, Northern Colorado  and even Grand Canyon (ugh) which would add to competitive quality and meaningful rivalries. But the insular reputation of the Summit League would likely dissuade any of these schools (or others) from joining. This move further ties Douple’s hands and limits future expansion for the Summit League. And, DU is no closer to meaningful rivalries or ‘like’ universities.

Time to move on.

34 thoughts on “If ‘Augie’ joins the Summit, Denver should exit”

  1. Augustana would not only bring nothing to the Summit table, but would actually be a drag on the Summit’s reputation. Most Summit schools elevated to D-I to get away from playing rinky-dink schools such as “Augie.” That said, money can make this Augie happen if there is enough Sanford dough behind it, and there is very little DU can do about it. The big challenge here is where would Denver go if the Pios were to actually leave the Summit?

    Right now, the only conference that would accept DU today is the WAC, and I think the WAC is worse than the Summit, with bad travel, a number of no-name teams, poor academics and no real rivalries for DU. The Pios already left that league for good reason in 2012, and the only schools in it that league DU really respects today are Seattle and NMSU. The WCC, Big Sky, MWC and MVC don’t want DU for various reasons, so those aren’t really options.

    Being an independent would be disastrous for recruiting without the auto-bids that a conference provides.

    Long term, there may be some disgruntled privates that could come together to form a conference, but we’re a long way from that.

    Sometimes, you have to accept your fate. We’re a Big East/Patriot League style school in the West. DU is isolated and insists on producing a unique Eastern-style sports menu and with unique funding priorities. While we all love the sports we play, this shitty conference affiliation problem is the eternal price we will likely pay for being so different.

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  2. Most new AD’s make their mark with a big coaching hire. Not ours. Karlton Creech can only become a savior by finding a new home for our Summit League teams. Puck, after your BE/PAT comparison, I predict you will not replace Val Ackerman as BE COMMISSIONER. 😀 The BE is basketball driven. I’d imagine many BE teams have higher individual hoops home attendance then all PAT have in combined home attendance.

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  3. With less than 25 D1 football programs making money, this would be a huge loser for DU. No stadium, no history and the Denver sports market is saturated, DU would hemmorage cash.

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    1. I disagree with you sir! This would cost some dollars. However, the beefed up basketball schedule would pump up attendance. I went to DU in the 80’s. I was the student who organized the club football program in 84 and played Lacrosse as well. I have lived in the Dallas area and have 3 D1 football programs within 30 miles of each other. You mean to tell me Denver which would be the only D1 football program in a major city would not support the program. I don’t believe it.

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  4. If I may be blunt, with whatever respect is due to North and South Dakota: if you were to do a poll nationwide, to determine the states that intrigue or interest people the most, North and South Dakota would be 49 and 50, respectively. Yet DU is stuck in a Dakota dominated conference for some god-awful reason. Just get out, this is getting to be ridiculous.

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    1. Double posting here. I’d like to change my answer. I gotta give some more love to S. Dakota, as they have the nice Black Hills and Mt. Rushmore. Put em at a solid 47, but keep N. Dakota at 50.

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  5. I disagree with you sir! This would cost some dollars. However, the beefed up basketball schedule would pump up attendance. I went to DU in the 80’s. I was the student who organized the club football program in 84 and played Lacrosse as well. I have lived in the Dallas area and have 3 D1 football programs within 30 miles of each other. You mean to tell me Denver which would be the only D1 football program in a major city would not support the program. I don’t believe it.

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  6. Football at DU makes little to no sense. It would be a $40-50 million undertaking for FBS, and that’s if you found a sugar daddy or sugar mama donor to pop for it, and that’s without building a home stadium. Competitively, we’d be Rice without the Texas recruits, and would be lucky to draw 10,00-15,000 people in 75,000 seat mile high stadium, with half of those cheering for the opponent. Football would suck DU dry in today’s era. Goodbye DU hockey, lacrosse and soccer.

    None of the MWC conference teams are making money on football, either. Colorado is also a bad recruiting area, and the City of Denver cares little for DU sports, either.

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  7. Sanford’s influence can’t be underestimated according to a recent KELO article:

    “They (Sanford Health) had been asking us to move out to Sioux Falls for a number of years,” Douple told KWSN’s Sports Talk with Craig and John Wednesday, a few hours after the conference made the impending move from suburban Chicago official in a press release, which featured glowing quotes about the partnership from Sanford CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft.

    “(Sanford executives) said here’s an office building we’re going to build (and said), ‘why don’t ya’ll come out here,” Douple said.

    Douple also confirmed Sanford officials have lobbied him to consider Augustana as a new member of the league if the school decides to make the leap to Div. I athletics.

    “Of course,” Douple said, chuckling. “I mean, my gosh, with 28,000 employees, there’s bound to be a bunch of employees that are positive with Augustana, along with a bunch of other schools that they represent.

    “I don’t think there is any secret about who those supporters of Augustana would be.”

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    1. The other idea is Boone pins. We ran out and people always want more for their jackets and caps…So, that is the other option we are considering. Plus, easy to ship!

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    1. Great question JP. Yes, we will be doing a Boone Merchandise promotion. Just like last year, profits will go to a camper(s) to attend Rodney Billups summer kids basketball camp. Still working out some ideas – we were thinking about a cap but all ideas welcome.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. DU complains about the Summit and how small time it is. On the other hand DU basketball is not even a competitor there. If the great DU can’t compete successfully with the Dakotas they might as well go D2.

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    1. Denver actually screwed themselves in basketball the day they dropped Football in 1961. Yes, they became a major player in the non revenue sports. In my opinion had they continued in Football they would have most likely been in The Mountain West which was basically a branch born from the WAC, which prior to that was the Skyline. DU leaving the Skyline was the card that broke the back of the conference. This single move left DU basketball out in no man’s land. DU should be thankful that when the NCAA passed legislation that stated if you had D1 Basketball or Football all of your sports programs must be D1 and schools like CC, Hopkins, and few others were grandfathered in with Hockey, Lacrosse, etc. When the Great Dan Ritchie reinvigorated DU and had the foresight to see the importance of having D1 athletics as the window of opportunity for the University, I am sure he was aware of the hurdles of finding a conference that would be a fit. When DU jumped in the Summit, and it appeared that DU Basketball was on the rise and they could be a dominant force, they were probably caught off guard how competitive those Dakota schools have become. DU was grasping for straws when they chose the Summit and now they have sunk Basketball. The only way out is to have a competitive B-Ball program like Wichita State. Let’s face it Until DU can prove that they are the cream of the crop in Summit League Basketball they will be left with little to no options. Sorry to disappoint my fellow Pios but here’s the facts in Basketball: Poorly attended games, the only D1 University in Colorado to not make an NCAA D1 tournament appearance in its history. With no basketball pedigree, no football team, you are left with no options.

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      1. Great points Aaron. They have to fix b-ball. I have faith that Billups is bringing in talent and the new AD Karlton Creech is a supporter of developing hoops. Let’s see if they can do it.

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      2. In addition to my previous comments, I actually would be a bigger proponent of DU adding Football on the level of a Drake, Stetson, etc. I believe if done rite, you are adding Football at a level that has a greater upside to the University as a whole. By joining the Pioneer league you expand the foot print of exposure of the University. The costs of the program are minimized by the fact that the Pioneer league is non scholarship. I believe adding Football at this level offers many benefits such as exposure in several markets around the country, creating an even more robust fundraising network via sponsorships and alumni giving, and changing the culture of apathy by the city of Denver as it relates to the University. You have given an additional reason for alumni to come support the University on all fronts. I read a recent article on how the quality of Football has significantly increased in the Ivy League. No, the Ivy didn’t start giving Football scholarships. However, they are now getting great athletes that are receiving scholarship via academics. Therefore, a marginal D-1 recruit is realizing the benefit of receiving a degree from an ivy. I believe this further advances the plight of DU and who it appeals to. This level of football would be a great asset not a hemorrhage to the University. This would be my ideal scenario for the University. However, I know that this doesn’t solve the bigger picture of being a member of the Summit.

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  9. I’m a South Dakota Coyote alumnus and fan. For starters, you spelled Douple incorrectly. Secondly, Augustana wouldn’t play at the Premier Center. They might play at the Sanford Pentagon, but certainly not the Premier Center. There is some question if this is a good move for Augie as they would have to do some major fundraising, but what it would do is create stability and better travel partner scenarios for league members. I’m not saying I’m in favor of it, but also don’t think Denver should feel slighted by this potential move either.

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    1. The issue for DU is that there is no historical connection to the Dakotas. We have very few alumni in North and South Dakota and Denver is a private university – not a State University. So, there is a disconnect with the Summit League. Separately, there is overall fan frustration that DU has never been able to win a conference in basketball – be it the Sunbelt Conference, the WAC or the Summit League. While that is not a conference issue, it adds to Denver basketball fans frustration. Then, add a conference tournament in Sioux Falls every year and non-Dakota schools have little opportunity to compete for the championship. When playing Summit League schools, there is a low level of fan support and interest in most DU opponents (and I am sure people in the Dakotas don’t get ‘jacked up’ for DU either). Adding Augustana only adds to the general lack of interest in the Summit here in Denver and just makes the conference a geographically limited conference for non-Dakota teams. That is the reality…

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  10. I don’t see DU ever doing Pioneer league, non-scholarship football, either. Other than the players, girlfriends and families, no one is going to be very excited to watch DU play Drake, Butler, Davidson, Dayton, USD and Valpo even though those school are peer privates of DU.

    The only way I could ever see it happen would be if DU’s male enrollment drops below 40%, and the 85 male football roster spots were seen as a tuition-boosting ploy to enroll more males at DU.

    Frankly, the money expended to play this non-relevant brand of quasi-club football would still suck money from other DU sports, and with concussion issues and other football-related costs and liabilities, I just don’t see any institutional appetite for it in this era.

    Moreover, DU went to full D-I in 1998-1999 with the idea to compete for national titles in multiple sports (which has come true). DU even offered travel subsidies to join the WCC back then, but DU was turned down, which very much surprised Ritchie and Co. The expectation back in the late 90s was that DU would be in the WCC with other western private schools and that in 10 years, DU might become another Gonzaga – strong enough to make it to the Big Dance on a regular basis and generate a consistent 5,000 paying hoops customers to thus generate more national interest in DU.

    After the WCC turndown, DU was then stuck in the Sun Belt for the next 15 years, (again, something no one expected) which further stunted the program’s development even more, especially DU hiring poor coaches like Marty Fletcher (he of the .300 winning percentage) and Terry Carroll, who actually bailed out midseason on his 4-26 team by stopping showing up for work and not even calling his bosses, claiming “medical issues.” It wasn’t until Joe Scott made the program respectable, but even then, DU is still, to this date, unable to make it the Dance.

    That NCAA tourney dream has proven to be much tougher to achieve, as other schools continue to pour money into it at a rate that DU could never keep up. To be more relevant in hoops, DU probably needs to be spending at least double that $3 million they are spending now, and even then, a $6-7 million budget would still be well below what most top 50 schools are spending.

    Finally, there is also a school of thought out there that to prove to recruits that DU is serious about basketball that they would need their own facility – probably a 4,000 seat arena that would be basketball-only. They will say that DU, Boston College, Ohio State, Northeastern and Wisconsin are the only schools who play in buildings that are shared between hockey and basketball.

    I think a new DU hoops arena would be a pretty tough thing to raise the money for, given that Magness is quite serviceable, although its no longer new, and is now older that the players being recruited. To an 18-year old basketball player, a 20-year old arena is ancient…Duke can get away with a 70 year old barn because it’s Duke. DU does not have that luxury….

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    1. Mr. Swami, you bring some valid points. However, your perception of Quasi club football by the Pioneer League is misinformed. In 2016 and 2017 the Pioneer League champion San Diego Torreros were granted an automatic qualifier into the playoffs. Your little club team beat UC Davis in 2016 and Northern Arizona in 2017 in First round playoffs. Not bad for for a school that is competing against scholarship football schools. With DU’s academic reputation they would get those tweener athletes that might not be highly recruited at the D1 level but value a quality education and would see DU as a fit. Very similar to what is happening in the IVY League. Finally, than DU could rid of that bogus Hockey Homecoming.

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  11. Out in the Dakotas DU is the new University of Northern Colorado. If Augie moves up and is joined in the Summit by another of their D2 conference mates in Minnesota I don’t think anybody here would care if DU left. They don’t bring anything to the league and they are beginning to be an outlier. I would hate to see them leave if it threatened the auto bid.

    The Summit could become a new D1 hockey league and the smaller football programs could be non-scholarship. They could possibly realign with the far flung Pioneer and make 2 more sensibly located non scholarship conferences.

    That might be a good place for DU to be if they wanted non scholarship football

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  12. Aaron, I see your point about Pioneer League football now being a part of the FCS playoffs, so the quasi-club aspect of my point was a poor choice of words.

    My larger point here is that FCS football would be even less exciting and less relevant than FBS football in these parts with the opponents they would be playing, which would have little spectator/gate appeal and would not provide much visibility benefit. The Pioneer League averaged 3,088 per game people last season. That kind of high school sized football crowd makes the game seem rinky-dink, at least in my eyes. A D-I college football game needs at least 15,000 fans to make it appealing, and even that is going to seem rinky dink compared to major college football.

    Being non-scholarship FCS would also make success even more elusive, and the costs would still have to come from somewhere, and most likely, at the expense of other DU sports. Even without scholarships, a Pioneer league football team would cost a minimum of $1-2 million out-of-pocket per season, when you figure in even low coaching salaries, basic travel (55 players times 5 plane trips), equipment, stadium rental, medical and insurance, etc. That’s more than most DU sports cost even with scholarships.

    I agree with you about DU Homecoming being underwhelming, but that can be probably be fixed without football. I would fix it by having 15 local high school bands upgrade the Homecoming parade into a morning event that DU could leverage by bringing those 2,000 high school kids onto campus. In the afternoon, it’s an outdoor concert for the DU students and their families with a reasonably well-known band/artist with multi-generational appeal, followed by the hockey game at night.

    John: DU brings plenty to the Summit League. We bring the league’s largest and most attractive media market in Denver, and 15-20 nationally available TV games across multiple sports on Altitude TV. We also bring the league’s best overall sports program (the best academics, the highest graduation rates, the best sports budgets, championship calibre teams in almost every Summit Sport we play and modern facilities). Granted we are a bit of an outlier geographically, but make no mistake that Denver is a big asset to the Summit.

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  13. If we left the Summit, they would still get the same number of teams into the NCAA tournament in all sports. Only loss would be soccer where we can compete for a national championship. I wouldn’t be surprised if Summit League fans resent our success in the niche sports.

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    1. Not true. Women’s hockey does not make much sense at DU. It’s a very expensive sport (which is why North Dakota recently cut it) with very little spectator interest at the college level and on top of that, we’re in a poor recruiting area with fairly low interest in the sport. There are only 5,900 female players in the entire Rocky Mountain District of USA Hockey at any age, about 15% of the total. If DU had a team, they would need to fill it with Canadians in order to win, since they would struggle to draw top players in the upper Midwest or east.

      Spectator-wise, only three schools in America draw more than 1,000 fans per game for women’s hockey – Wisconsin (2,265 average), Minnesota (1,629) and Minnesota-Duluth (1,163) last year, and those are the three programs that win most often. Without many families of players living in the area, DU would struggle to draw 500 people for women’s hockey. The numbers just aren’t there.

      DU Basketball averaged 1,200 last year but has averaged 3,300 in the recent past. I don’t see women’s hockey even approaching those numbers, let alone dwarfing them….

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  14. Puck Swami I appreciate the depth to your thoughts. I do believe that DU could support and would be supported at a mid major program level. Look at what Mercer has been able to accomplish. They started in the Pioneer League and they grew the program into a scholarship program with much success. Let’s pretend DU started a program in the Pioneer League. After a few years of stabilization they lead the league in attendance and desire to apply to the Big Sky. Now this certainly is a better fit than the Summit!

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  15. Interesting point, Aaron. Here’s my take – Mercer is smack in the middle of one of the top recruiting areas for football in country, so it’s little surprise that the Bears have risen into a competitive program. Colorado is not Georgia and never will be, and DU (and all Colorado schools) will always be stuck recruiting this low-grade football area as a primary recruiting area. For example, the State of Georgia had 40 blue chip recruits last year and the State of Colorado had two. As you can surmise, 95% of top football players come from the top 25 recruiting states – Georgia is a top 5 recruiting state and Colorado isn’t in the top 25.

    The reason for this is to a large degree, is racial reality in America. If you overlay a map of the US population of African-Americans and where they live, a heavy correlation can be drawn between top football recruiting areas and those areas where African-Americans live. The reality is that black men comprise 57 percent of college football teams, on average. At some universities, it’s over 70 percent.

    DU will always struggle to be relevant in football without black athletes, and since 80% of students go to school within a day’s drive of home, and since most African-Americans don’t live within a day’s drive of Colorado, it’s a big struggle to attract enough of them to come here. To make matters worse, only 2% of college men are African-American and DU’s tuition costs are very high, so given the income disparities in many Black areas around the country, if the DU team was to be non-scholarship, it’s going to be very difficult to get enough quality Black players here. That’s reality, and it isn’t pretty. To win in football, I think you need plenty of good black players. I would like to see more black student-athletes at DU. DU Basketball is starting to get there now with more black athletes, but it’s a small roster sport.

    The Summit and Big Sky are very similar conferences, both loaded with state schools that carry little spectator interest here in Denver. About the best thing that can be said for the Big Sky is that Northern Colorado is close by, which isn’t saying that much from a DU perspective. I would argue that DU would draw just as many fans playing North Dakota or Omaha in Summit League play vs playing UNC, as UND and UNO at least carry the hockey rivalry into Summit League play. I see the Big Sky and the Summit as pretty much the same thing…

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    1. Puck Swami, I enjoy this dialogue with you. Many of your comments are based on fact. The more I continue to ponder this, the more I wish DU would join the Pioneer League. Here is my thoughts, the Pioneer League has a lot of inter league play with the Ivy League. Pioneer League would continue to foster the image the University seems to aspire to. The exposure of playing an Ivy League School Puts DU in the same peer group as they aspire to be considered on equal footing. This is what college athletics should be. Do you not see the global exposure this would give the University? We have DU Princeton Lax. Why not Football? Your point about disparity in talent in certain regions is spot on . I have been a High School Football Official in Texas for over 27 years and I remember working a Game where a Dallas team had 21 D-1 recruits in comparison to the whole state of Colorado only had 22 for the year. I do want to poke a few holes In your lack of Talent on the front range. Look at CSU Pueblo and Mines. Good coaches find good players!

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  16. As D-II schools, CSU-Pueblo and Mines actually benefit from the lack of D-I talent in Colorado, as D-II level talent in Colorado gets high school development time at skill positions that would otherwise go to D-I caliber kids in the football-rich talent states. Thus many D-II schools here that get high school star athletes who are ready to compete.

    DU cannot host sports programs at different NCAA Divisional levels ever again as it did in the 80s to the mid 90s, or it will lose it’s longtime D-I sports teams like hockey and gymnastics for good. The NCAA grandfathered D-II schoolsl (like St. Cloud, MSU-Mnakato) and D-III schools like CC, St. Lawrence and Johns Hopkins who had D-I teams in specific sports like hockey and lacrosse as a one-time exception, but now, all future schools must play all varsity programs at the same level.

    Yes – DU has always wanted to be perceived as an Baby Ivy, but it has a long way to go to get there. First, Ivy League schools have multi-billion endowments that allow them to do whatever they want to do financially, especially around financial aid, which allow them to admit anyone they want without regard to ability to pay. DU is still 70% tuition dependent with its $700 million endowment.

    In terms of Ivy Football (once the dominant programs in the sport 100+ years ago), you are seeing those programs losing relevance at those schools. The Ivies average only 8,000 fans per game in football now, and I think in the next 20 years (or perhaps less), you’ll see them be among the first D-I programs to ease out football, due to mounting concussion evidence and the growth of multIculturalism on campus that detests ‘symbols of white male patriarchy’ like football.

    DU’s unique philosophy of pursuing national excellence in niche sports is an outlier today, and the bad conference situation we face is the price we pay for it. But long term, I think more schools are going to look at DU’s model of affordable excellence as something they might want to emulate.

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