IPFW athletic department officials held a 3 p.m. news conference yesterday to announce that the school has been officially offered a spot in the Mid-Continent Conference effective for the 2007-2008 school year and athletic season. Mid-Con commissioner Tom Douple made the announcement in the packed ballroom of the Walb Student Union on the school’s Fort Wayne, Indiana campus.
“We had put so much effort into this and we had worked so hard to get it done this time that it was so great to hear those words you’re in,” said Mark Pope, the school’s Athletic Director.
Pope was given the news by Chancellor Michael Wartell in the morning and had to prepare for the news conference later in the day.
“Being part of a conference will really allow us to garner some much deserved respect,” men’s basketball head coach Dane Fife said.
“It is for the student athletes,” Fife added. “I couldn’t be happier for the ones that are here everyday pouring their hearts out for the university.”
At the beginning of August, Douple and other officials from the conference visited Fort Wayne in the process of discussing and determining expansion for the conference that lost Chicago State in the spring and will lose flagship program Valparaiso to the Horizon League next fall.
During the visit, Douple and others visited with over 100 people associated with the university including athletes, faculty and boosters.
“Those people saw what a neat town Fort Wayne is and what a neat part we play in it. Those were the real selling points,” Pope said.
IPFW fully joined the ranks of Division I in 2002 and has had four sub-par seasons as an Independent program. After two and one half seasons into their time as a DI program, the school fired head coach Doug Noll. He was replaced by then-assistant Joe Pechota for half a season and the school then hired Fife, a former standout guard at Indiana University, in March 2005 to take over.
In his first season at the helm, Fife led the program to its first 10-plus-win season since 2000, when they were still a member of Division II’s Great Lakes Valley Conference. At 25, Fife also became the youngest Division I coach upon his hiring.
Fife and his coaching staff met with the team early in the day after receiving the news from Athletic Director Mark Pope. While Fife said that the there were a lot of smiles in the room, that he wants the younger players to understand the importance of the seniors, who will not be around for conference affiliation, to go out with a bang.
“We can’t forget this coming year and the importance of this coming year. It is important that Justin Hawkins, Quintin Carouthers and Tyler Best go out with what they deserve,” Fife noted several times. “When the time comes to play in the Mid-Con, that’s down the road. Right now, we have to work for this season.”
While Fife does not want to look past or coast through the coming season, he did note the importance to grooming current and future players a different way.
“We have to get our kids groomed to winning the Mid-Con as opposed to winning the UBC, it’s a different mindset.”
IPFW will be part of the UBC (United Basketball Conference) this season, but will cut off affiliation at seasons end. The UBC is not an official conference, but more of a scheduling agreement between independents.
IPFW will be immediately eligible for conference tournament play in men’s basketball and the 14 other sports that the Mid-Con offers.
“First we need to take a step back and realize what has happened and then what we need to do to win Mid-Con Conference championships. To not just participate but win,” Pope said.
“From our men’s basketball standpoint, it gives every one of our players the chance to fulfill the dream of playing in the NCAA tournament,” said Associate Head Coach Jeff Tungate. Before being hired as Fife’s first assistant a little over a year ago, Tungate was part of the Mid-Continent’s Oakland University coaching staff.
While the current senior class will not see conference play, junior DeWitt Scott, the leading scorer from Fife’s first season will be heading IPFW as they begin conference play. Junior transfer Demetrius Johnson is the only other potential starter who will be around when the school officially begins conference play.
Based out of Elmhurst, Illinois, the conference will now have eight schools next fall but is also looking at South Dakota State and North Dakota State as other possible expansion schools. The majority of schools currently in the Mid-Con are Midwest based. The school furthest away from the others is Southern Utah.