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UWS moves to leave WIAC for Minnesota conference

By Jeff Potrykus

MADISON — The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference is in danger of losing the University of Wisconsin-Superior, perhaps as early as the 2015-16 academic year.

UW-Superior, founded in 1893 and a member of the WIAC (formerly WSUC) for more than 100 years, has applied to join the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference.

The UMAC has eight full members, seven of which are in Minnesota, and five associate members that compete in football only. The lone Wisconsin school in the UMAC is Northland College, located in Ashland.

According to Corey Borchardt, commissioner of the UMAC, the league’s Council of Presidents will vote on the application before June 1.

“That would be a final decision,” Borchardt said Monday. “And with scheduling ... the very earliest they would be admitted would be 2015-16.”

When reached for a comment, UWS athletic director Steve Nelson would only say at this time that “the application is in.”

The departure of UWS, which would continue to compete in the WIAC in men’s and women’s ice hockey, would leave the WIAC with eight members.

The WIAC sport that could suffer the most damage is baseball. If UWS leaves the conference has only seven schools that sponsor baseball. That is below the NCAA minimum of eight needed for a league to get an automatic bid in the Division III tournament.

“When they first discussed this with me my first reaction was: ‘Why would you be doing this?’“ WIAC commissioner Gary Karner said. “But when I looked at the circumstances and broke it all down it makes a lot of sense.”

A move to the UMAC would cut travel costs and allow UWS to compete against schools with similar enrollments.

According to Karner, UW-Superior’s trips in the WIAC range from 147 miles to UW-Stout, to 368 miles to UW-Whitewater. In the UMAC, Superior would have trips ranging from about five miles to 255 miles.

“They have three trips in the WIAC that are more than 300 miles,” Karner said. “Their average trip would be 186 compare to 247 in our league.

“That doesn’t sound like a lot but when you multiply that over the number of trips in all the sports it is significant.”

UW-Superior’s enrollment has slipped below 2,500. That is by far the lowest in the WIAC. The enrollment of the other eight WIAC schools ranges from a low of 6,819 (UW-River Falls) to a high of 13,513 (UW-Oshkosh).

“It’s not even in the ballpark,” Karner said of Superior’s enrollment compared to other WIAC schools.

UWS would have the third-highest enrollment in the UMAC, behind only Northwestern (3,000) and St. Scholastica (2,877).

“They’re in the higher end of the UMAC,” Karner said, noting 52 percent of UW-Superior’s athletes come from Minnesota and only 30 percent come from Wisconsin. “Minnesota is obviously their feeder ground, not only in athletics but also from an institutional perspective.

“In looking to increase their enrollment, they’re going to be looking more at the state of Minnesota than at Wisconsin.”

UWS sponsors 13 sports — six for men and seven for women. The men’s sports are baseball, basketball, cross country, ice hockey, soccer and track and field. The women’s sports are softball, basketball, cross country, ice hockey, soccer, track and field and volleyball.

Superior, which dropped football after the 1992 season, has enjoyed little success in the WIAC in “major” sports.

The Yellowjackets won six league titles in football but the last came in 1946. They won only four titles in men’s basketball, the last in 1941.

Men’s hockey has won the league title outright five times and shared the title twice, the most recent in 2011.

The Yellowjackets have won just one baseball title, in 1966. They finished fifth in each of the last four seasons but had the worst record or tied for the worst record in the league for 14 seasons before that (1996-2009).

“I’ve actually become an advocate of the move, for their benefit,” Karner said. “If I look at it from a conference perspective, I hate to lose a school.

“But when I look at what is best for Superior, it just makes a lot of sense.”

If UWS is accepted to the UMAC, Karner has no plans to add another school.

“There just aren’t any options out there,” he said.