It’s official. North Idaho College’s sports teams will move from the Scenic West Athletic Conference to the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges. The decision was made March 13 at NIC’s Edminster Student Union Building by NIC’s board of trustees.
NIC’s outdoor sports – mens and womens soccer, mens and womens golf and softball -will move to the NWAACC this fall while the indoor sports teams – mens and womens basketball and volleyball – will make the transition in 2015 or 2016.
Wrestling will remain in the National Junior College Athletic Association.
One of the notable changes that will take place once teams start to move to the NWAACC is the opportunity for teams to compete for conference championships only.
In the SWAC, teams compete for conference and national championships. But NWAACC teams don’t compete for national titles.
The conference switch is expected to save NIC about $600,000 a year, mostly in travel and scholarship costs.
A public comment session was held at the beginning of the meeting in which anyone who hadn’t previously given their opinion on the matter had the opportunity to voice their opinion. A few NIC student-athletes spoke including basketball players Devon Loy and Bryce Leavitt and soccer player John Ray.
Leavitt, who transferred from Washington State University to NIC after last season, wanted NIC’s teams to remain in the SWAC.
“One of my coaches at WSU committed to helping me find the right community college for me and his first option was North Idaho College,” Leavitt said. “His reasons were that NIC played in the best junior college league in the nation, they could offer full scholarships and that NIC was respected by four-year institutions everywhere. My assistant coach also specifically told me to not go to an NWAACC school because they don’t offer full scholarships and are not well-respected by four-year institutions.”
Leavitt said playing at NIC this season has helped him gain recognition from four-year schools.
“I am now being recruited by Ivy League schools for basketball such as Cornell and Columbia because of the exposure I got from playing in the Scenic West Conference,” Leavitt said.
Loy, a Coeur d’Alene High School graduate, transferred to NIC this season after playing for a NWAACC school last season. He said coming from a NWAACC school to a SWAC school made a big, positive change.
“I did not receive athletically or academically the help that I needed at an NWAACC school,” Loy said.
After Loy and his family decided it was best to transfer to NIC, Loy said NIC has helped him in the classroom and on the court.
Most of the schools in the NWAACC are located in Washington and Oregon, with many schools like Wenatchee Valley, Walla Walla, Yakima Valley, Columbia Basin, Spokane and Big Bend within four hours away.
NIC’s closest conference rival is the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, which is about a nine-hour drive. NIC’s softball team travels to Western Nevada College of Carson City and the College of Southern Nevada in Henderson.
NWAACC schools also provide partial scholarships to its student-athletes instead of full scholarships like NJCAA and SWAC schools can provide.
The athletic budget has an operating budget of $2.14 million. NIC’s enrollment declined 10 percent last semester and 11 percent this semester. Enrollment is expected to decline up to another 10 percent in 2015. With enrollment down, departments from across NIC’s campus are expected to make budget cuts.
NIC athletic director Al Williams has said that possible NIC recruits were being put on hold because he didn’t know if NIC was going to move conferences or remain in the SWAC. Williams has also said that scheduling for the fall sports season would be an issue if a decision was not made promptly.
The NWAACC wouldn’t accept certain NIC teams. NIC had to make the decision of sending all of its teams (except for wrestling) to the NWAACC or none of them at all.
The trustees voted 3-1 to change conferences.