VCSU head coaches react to move to Frontier Conference

May 23—VALLEY CITY, N.D. — Valley City State University will have a new conference home in two years.

The Vikings will join the Frontier Conference starting in the 2025-26 season. Vikings athletic director Dennis McCulloch said once they found out in August 2023 that the North Star Athletic Association was going to cease operations after the 2024-25 season, which prompted them to start looking into finding a future conference home. He said they got the news about the NSAA closing down before the news came out that the University of Jamestown was joining the conference for the 2024-25 season.

"So you're forced into a decision that we have to find a home for our athletic programs," McCulloch said. "You have to look at every opportunity that you have out there to be able to secure a future for them. ... So it forced us to reach out and look. They offered us an opportunity and I think right now that's the best decision for us for 2025."

On Nov. 13, 2023, the NSAA announced that the University of Jamestown was joining the conference for the 2024-25 season before moving up to the NCAA Division II level for the 2025-26 season.

Through the process, McCulloch said the university explored multiple options, including moving up to the NCAA Division II or Division III levels. McCulloch said the university has looked at the possibilities of staying in the NAIA or moving up to a higher level and how that would impact the university and the athletic department.

"Since we found out in August, we have evaluated ourselves, in where's the best fit for us as we move forward," McCulloch said. " ... We've hired a consultant to come in and look at us and give us some factual information. ... So those are things we've weighed out, the university will continue to look at what is the best for our athletic programs to compete, financial, all the things have to be weighed out. We will continue to do that, that's not going to end because of where we're currently at."

The Vikings are joining the Frontier Conference alongside fellow North Star Athletic Association teams Bellevue University (Nebraska), Dakota State University (South Dakota), Mayville State University (North Dakota) and Dickinson State University (North Dakota). The five teams will play the 2024-25 season in the NSAA before that conference ends and they move to the Frontier Conference.

The 11-team conference will be split into two divisions based on geography with a double round-robin schedule. The conference has four additional associate members for football, Arizona Christian University, the College of Idaho, Eastern Oregon University and Southern Oregon University.

While the football schedule for the 2025 season is not set yet, McCulloch, who is also the Vikings football head coach, said his team is prepared to travel to play the other football teams in the conference.

"If we have to play any of those teams in our cross-over games, we will have to go there and they will have to come here," McCulloch said. "Right now they're not in our side as far as our east-west piece, but we could play them in a crossover event and play the other side of the conference. The west side, at some point all of our teams will have to play somebody in the west. There will be further trips if we play them in the west."

The Vikings programs do have experience against the six teams already in the Frontier Conference. The football team has played a combined five games against Carroll College and Montana Tech since 1989. The women's basketball team has played a combined 12 games against five of their future conference foes since 2002. During the 2023-24 season, the Vikings women's basketball team played Rocky Mountain College, the University of Providence and Montana State University-Northern, going a combined 1-2 against those teams.

"We try to play our regional opponents whether that's the GPAC or the Frontier Conference, as many nonconference games as we can against those opponents is, as a coach from my eyes, what I try to do," Vikings women's basketball head coach Vanessa Johnson said. "This year, we ended up playing three of the six teams and we've played Carroll in the past. So we've traditionally tried to play the Frontier Conference as nonconference. But this year was moreso of, 'Yeah let's see what we're getting into and let's go play some of those teams.'"

This past women's basketball season, the Frontier Conference had two teams finish ranked inside the top 15. Those two teams, Carroll College and Providence College played each other in the Final Four of the national tournament with Providence advancing to the national championship game. Johnson said the fact that the conference is so successful will force her to change the way she recruits.

"(The) expectations I think for our women's basketball program will definitely mean that we need to step up if it's the local kids we're getting or if we're gonna start to expand our horizons to try to find some high-quality talent to bring to Valley City," Johnson said. "... I think we definitely just have to take that next step which is really exciting for us."

All six of the pre-existing members of the conference do not have baseball teams and only Carroll College and Providence College currently have softball teams. The five teams entering the conference currently have both sports. While announcing the additions of the Vikings, the conference announced it would begin to sponsor baseball and softball. McCulloch said the conference agreeing to sponsor the two sports was mandatory for the university to join the conference. McCulloch said he did not know whether the colleges and universities that do not have those sports will be adding them.

"Honestly, I'm excited for the opportunities in the next conference," Vikings baseball head coach Alec DeMaria said. "I don't think it's really going to change what we do for baseball all that much with different potentials of new teams being added and all the same teams with us. Actually, our conference will be closer in proximity than it was before. We had teams from Wisconsin and Iowa. So it should be exciting for regional rivalries and for the potential to be in a conference with more national recognition to its name."