Minnesota State Moorhead
History: Ross Fortier coached the Dragons for 23 seasons (1970-92), with nine Northern Intercollegiate Conference titles, seven NAIA playoff appearances and a record of 152-80-4. The move to NCAA Division II with the Northern Sun started in Fortier’s final season. The Dragons won a Northern Sun title in 1995, but they have been underfinanced with scholarships and have struggled mightily in recent years. They are 5-36 in conference play in the past four seasons, with four of the victories over Minnesota-Crookston.
Coach Steve Laqua (third season): “We have steadily increased scholarships. We’ll be at 20 next year. The conference maximum is 28, so we’ll be right in the hunt. We have 95 players in fall camp, which is where we want to be with our numbers. We started eight freshmen on offense last season. We’re still building … but headed in the right direction.”
History: The small University of Minnesota branch in Crookston granted its first four-year degrees in 1994. Crookston played football in the NAIA North Dakota College Athletic Conference from 1995 to ’98, with an 11-13 conference record. The Golden Eagles moved to the Division II Northern Sun in 1999 and have a conference record of 20-104.
Coach Mike Fritze (interim for Paul Miller, who has taken a one-year leave for medical reasons): “We’re a small campus. We see that as an advantage. You graduate from school here, your degree is from the University of Minnesota. Our motto is, ‘Small campus; big degree.’ ... We have 80 players, including 30 newcomers. There is hope, and that may be the strongest emotion of all.”
History: The Fighting Scots and football futility have been synonymous since the 50-game losing streak from 1974 to 1980. It remains the national record for Division III. The Scots were 6-110 in MIAC games from 1989 through 2001, before opting for an independent schedule. Macalester is 35-68 in 11 seasons as an independent. The Scots will play football only in the Midwest Conference — with other smaller, very strong academic institutions — starting in 2014.
Coach Tony Jennison (sixth season, after being promoted from defensive coordinator when Glenn Caruso moved to St. Thomas): “Independent status was one factor in stabilizing the program, but the largest impact in my opinion has been support from the administration. Macalester built one of the nation’s largest Division III athletic facilities a few years ago. As a smaller school, we could’ve gotten by with less, but I believe the administration wanted to make a statement that the student-athlete experience is important at Macalester. And moving to a conference will mean a great deal for us, because our players will be competing for something more than pride.”
History: Carleton was a member of the Midwest Conference for six decades, before joining the MIAC in the fall of 1983. St. Olaf, the Knights’ Northfield rival, had made the switch to the MIAC in 1974. In 1977, Carleton spiced up the rivalry by hosting the “Liter Bowl” — the only U.S. football game to be played with metric measurements. St. Olaf won 43-0. Carleton won the MIAC in 1992. In 2008, Carleton went into the last weekend tied with St. John’s. The Johnnies scored with 16 seconds left to win the game — as they have all 30 games played vs. Carleton. The Knights are 5-27 in the MIAC (with three wins over Hamline) since that near-miss.
Coach Bob Pagel (second season; 2012 was as an interim after Kurt Ramler resigned in January): “Numbers continue to be a challenge for us. We need a bigger roster than our current 60. Realistically, I think we can get to 80-85 in a couple more years. Academic standards continue to keep us fishing in a small pond, but it’s not an excuse. One thing that does help everyone in our league that doesn’t happen at Carleton is transfers. Carleton admitted seven transfers last year and none were athletes. The teams at the top of the MIAC really benefit from guys ‘coming down’ from scholarship schools.”