NCC farewell event plannedThe small-college league that produced such athletes as Adam Vinatieri of the New England Patriots, Phil Hansen of the Buffalo Bills, Dave Osborn of the Minnesota Vikings and NBA legend Phil Jackson soon will be only memories. The North Central Conference, generally considered one of the top NCAA Division II leagues in the country, will cease to exist June 30, ending a run of nearly 90 years.
GRAND FORKS (AP) — The small-college league that produced such athletes as Adam Vinatieri of the New England Patriots, Phil Hansen of the Buffalo Bills, Dave Osborn of the Minnesota Vikings and NBA legend Phil Jackson soon will be only memories.
The North Central Conference, generally considered one of the top NCAA Division II leagues in the country, will cease to exist June 30, ending a run of nearly 90 years.
The NCC is holding an event Saturday in Sioux Falls, S.D., where hundreds of league memories will be toasted for the final time.
The conference has seen top teams depart to Division I in recent years, including charter members North Dakota, South Dakota, North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
In late 2006, then-Commissioner Roger Thomas, who recently was hired as the athletic director at the University of Mary, announced that the league would fold after the 2007-08 school year.
Osborn was one of the first stars in the NCC. His career helped bring the conference into the spotlight as a blue-collar league with talented, hardworking athletes from the Upper Midwest. Osborn signed with Minnesota in 1965, and the hard-nosed running back helped lead the Vikings to three Super Bowls.
“When I went to training camp, I found out right away that these guys from the Big 10 and other conferences who were there weren’t any better than the guys from my conference,” Osborn said.
Former NDSU football coach Ron Erhardt, who went on to become a head coach with the NFL’s New England Patriots, said the NCC was always marked by tough, competitive football.
“A lot of people forget that we played a lot of teams outside the league and won those games,” he said. “We beat Northern Illinois, Northern Arizona, Arkansas State. I think we won nine of 10 games against Montana State.
“I felt good about that,” Erhardt said. “We were in Division II. People probably thought we weren’t very good. But when we went out of the league, we represented it well.”
UND and NDSU dominated Division II women’s basketball for more than a decade, while creating one of the country’s best rivalries — in any division.
“Our league was the best in the nation throughout the 1990s,” UND coach Gene Roebuck said. “When that happens, you attract the players who could have gone to the next level who wanted to stay and play at a high level close to home.
“I always said our conference was a low- to mid-Division I level league,” he said. “Our players and coaches were very good.”
The Sioux and the Bison combined to win eight national titles, while South Dakota State captured another.
Few players or coaches in the NCC were as colorful or successful as Joe Glenn, who played at South Dakota and later led Northern Colorado to back-to-back national Division II football titles in the mid-1990s.
“The league made sense for what, 90 years?” said Glenn, now the head coach at Wyoming. “It’s a great league. It’s a shame it all went down like that. But time marches on.”
Noel Olson, NCC commissioner from 1984-1997, said there rarely were any bad teams in the league.
“There was no conference like it,” he said. “It’s sad that’s it’s ending. At first, I was angry. That quickly turned to sadness. Now, I’ve gotten to the point where you realize all good things come to an end.”