SIU conference foe to drop baseball

By Gus Bode

The SIU baseball team’s conference will be a team short beginning next season.

The University of Northern Iowa announced this week it will be eliminating its baseball program after the 2009 season, leaving the Missouri Valley Conference with eight baseball teams beginning in 2010, which SIU athletic director Mario Moccia said is unfortunate.

‘Well I think at the outset you always feel bad for the kids in any sport at any university, because I know that’s impactful to their lives,’ Moccia said in a phone interview. ‘At the same time, I would warn anybody being overly critical about the decision because every campus is different, every economy is different and, unless it’s the people at UNI, only they know what the true ramifications of their budget are.’


Moccia said Northern Iowa and mid-major universities are not the only institutions that have had to cut athletic programs. While Moccia was at University of Missouri, he said schools such as Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa State all cut programs.

The Salukis hold a 41-19 advantage in their all-time series with the Panthers, including a 2-1 record against them during the 2008 regular season and a win against them in the MVC tournament.

Moccia said with elimination of Northern Iowa, one possibility for the Valley’s conference tournament would be to make it an eight-team, round robin-style tournament with two four-team pods, but that has not been discussed yet.

‘I’m just kind of noodling around in my head what might come of this,’ Moccia said.

MVC commissioner Doug Elgin said that idea and any other possibilities would be discussed in the future, as is the possibility to move back to four-game conference series.

Valley teams have been playing one three-game series against each conference opponent.

‘We’re going to be very thorough in looking at everything that we do as a conference and seeing if how we’re doing things right now is the best answer as all of us try to get through these tough economic times,’ Elgin said.


SIU associate head coach Ken Henderson said the gap between teams in the standings was tightened when the MVC switched from a four-game series to the three-game variety, and with three fewer games it will be even harder for teams to put distance between their pursuers.

‘There’s just not a lot of room to get away from somebody,’ Henderson said. ‘So I think, probably, you’ll see a tighter league, but beyond that it’s disappointing. For college baseball to start dropping programs, nobody wants to see that, and they’ve had a little bit of success.’

Moccia said the loss of UNI will force the Salukis to find a non-conference opponent to play a series against to replace the series against the Panthers in 2010, but the MVC is not terribly weakened as a result of Northern Iowa’s decision to cut baseball.

‘When Iowa State dropped their program in baseball in 2001, did that weaken the Big 12 conference? I don’t think so,’ Moccia said. ‘So I don’t think it has a real impact on the other schools except for certainly scheduling.’

Northern Iowa Athletic Director Troy Dannen said in an interview with the Panther athletics’ Web site the decision to cut baseball is a result of the university receiving a cut of at least 9 percent in its state funding. He said the quality of Panthers’ athletics as a whole could not remain at a high level without cutting baseball.

‘We explored every alternative before reaching this decision,’ Dannen said in the interview. ‘Coach Rick Heller and the UNI baseball program have always represented UNI in exemplary fashion and have been positive contributors to the quality of life on our campus.’