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Missouri Valley commissioner says league continues commitment to FCS football

FARGO — The Missouri Valley Football Conference state of address this week by commissioner Patty Viverito was another in the line of easy ones. There’s been plenty of positivity over the last several years. The league put three teams in the Division I FCS playoffs last season and all won at least one game. North Dakota State and South Dakota State reached the semifinals, which made it four times in the last five years the Valley had two teams in the final four. The only commissioner the league has ever known pointed to NDSU’s seven national titles in eight years, a span in which the Valley has made the championship game eight straight years, an FCS record. In the last decade, the Valley owns a 59-25 postseason record, making it hands-down the top league in the subdivision. The next-best marks belongs to the Colonial Athletic Association, which went 40-36 in that same time span. “Two things have been constant,” Viverito said. “First has been our commitment nationally to be competitive in the FCS. That commitment has been unwavering and it’s resulted in the consistent and exceptional success we’ve had in the NCAA playoffs. Hats off to our (university) presidents for giving us that direction over these decades.” But, like all leagues, commissioners are always looking ahead to the next decade. The Valley, formerly known as the Gateway Football Conference, historically has been one of the most stable FCS leagues since the former Division I-AA was formed in the late 1970s. Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Western Illinois, Southern Illinois and Illinois State were charter members in 1985. Indiana State joined a year later. Youngstown State came aboard in the 1990s and NDSU, SDSU and South Dakota have been relatively recent additions in the last 10 years. The University of North Dakota will make it a 10-team league beginning in 2020, but Viverito said any thoughts of moving from an eight-game schedule have been squashed. “We are committed long-term to the eight-game schedule,” she said. “I think having three or four non-conference games is important to what our teams need to position themselves for postseason. I think our schools have done an excellent job of non-conference scheduling.” Viverito is a big proponent of quality non-conference games involving perennially ranked FCS programs. For instance, she was an a driving force in the Missouri Valley vs. Big Sky Conference challenge, which is entering its third year. “We won the first two of the challenges and we hope to extend that,” she said. There are nine Valley vs. Big Sky games this year. Locally, the highlight is nationally-ranked UC Davis vs. NDSU on Sept. 21 at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. “I firmly believe that the FCS needs to schedule more of these key matchups to create interest and excitement,” Viverito said. “And I think the NCAA committee needs to reward teams that play those strong schedules with at-large berths and top-eight seeds. I think they’ve begun to do that more and more in recent years.” Case in point: NDSU is playing at the University of Delaware on Sept. 14 in the back end of a home-and-home scheduling agreement. The Bison also host UND on Sept. 7 in the last non-conference game between the two in-state foes. Viverito, who just finished her first year on the NCAA Division I Council and as the FCS representative on the Division I Football Oversight Committee, said there has been some discussion on new recruiting models, sports gambling and the elimination of attendance requirements. The NCAA requires Football Bowl Subdivision schools to average 15,000 fans per game. The FCS is hoping that rule stays to avoid migration of FCS schools who don’t draw that many fans to the FBS. “That would, in many ways, challenge the FCS … and hopefully has been put to bed at least in the near term,” Viverito said. FBS schools are allowed to have the school purchase tickets and distribute them, so the minimum level of attendance is probably not an issue anyway, she said. Regionally, Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D., announced it is exploring Division I status, conversations that have reached the Missouri Valley Football office. Viverito said Augustana officials reached out to her for advice on what it takes to compete at the Valley level. “I have had informational conversations with representatives from Augustana just to find out what the landscape of football looks like in the Midwest,” she said. Those conversations included possible membership in the non-scholarship FCS Pioneer Football League. “Nothing concrete other than conversation about what it would take to compete,” Viverito said.