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Dana closes its doors

Less than two months before the start of the 2010-11 school year, Dana College announced Wednesday night that it was closing its doors forever.

The sudden closure leaves more than 600 full- and part-time students and roughly 130 employees searching for a place to work or go to school this fall.

It also creates quite a dilemma for the other 12 schools in the Great Plains Athletic Conference.

Thursday afternoon, Dakota Wesleyan athletic director Curt Hart and GPAC Commissioner Corey Westra were two of a number of individuals scrambling to fill schedules and answer the question everyone seemed to be asking: what happens now?

"Certainly, we lose an institution immediately, which does affect our schedule for the upcoming academic year," Westra said Thursday afternoon. "It has a most drastic effect on our football, volleyball and basketball schedules, because we have an unbalanced schedule there."

The 126-year-old private university cited the Higher Learning Commission's refusal to back its sale to a group of investors as reason for closure.

The commission would not transfer accreditation to the group of investors that had planned to buy the school.

In March, it was announced that the Dana Education Corporation -- a group of investors and an unnamed private equity firm -- would buy the school. A school spokesman said Thursday the sale didn't meet the commission's policy for school sales.

The Tigers were scheduled to host Dana in football on Nov. 6. The volleyball team was scheduled to host the Vikings Oct. 23, and the DWU men's and women's soccer teams were to play in Blair, Neb., Oct. 2.

Now, the teams must find another opponent.

"Obviously, we're going to need to make an effort to fill those (schedules)," Hart said. "Every sport is different and football might be the toughest. We've got some schools that have contacted us about playing extra games, but we'll have to see.

"We're all working on it."

As well as creating holes in schedules around the GPAC and other nearby schools, the loss of Dana will cause the conference to lose some of its national tournament berths.

The league will lose its second national tournament bid in volleyball, women's and men's soccer, cross country and men's golf. It will retain its second baseball, softball and women's golf berths, and basketball will not be affected.

"That's going to have an affect immediately," Westra said. "These are things we have to sort through. We have to get people together as soon as possible and walk through options."

While schools around the GPAC struggle to fill an extra space in their schedules, they might get a little extra help filling their rosters.

Thursday afternoon, Hart said DWU had already been contacted by several Dana student athletes about the possibility of playing for the Tigers this season. According to the rosters on Dana's website, more than 300 athletes participated in athletics at the school.

Because of the extenuating circumstances, the conference transfer rule will not apply to former Viking athletes and they will not be bound to the one-year waiting period that normally comes when a student transfers from one GPAC school to another.

The NAIA residency requirements, which state that a student athlete must live at the institution for 16 consecutive calendar weeks before they can participate, will also not apply.

"We've already had a few contact us in just a short amount of time," Hart said, "and I'm meeting with a few of those athletes already (today). We'll welcome them with open arms to get them into our school."

Midland Lutheran, another GPAC school in Fremont, Neb., offered 90-day contracts to all of Dana's 18 head athletic coaches Thursday as it tries to bring in as many students, professors and coaches as possible. Students are also able to transfer easily to the University of Nebraska at Omaha, UN at Lincoln and Grand View in Des Moines, Iowa.

Concordia University said it would match all Dana scholarships.

Along with the immediate questions such as schedules and rosters, there are also several long-term questions that Westra and the conference ADs must looks into. One that has already been brought up is the number of teams the league will contain in the future.

"We've known that Sioux Falls would be leaving after this next year, so the prospect of losing membership is not altogether new," Westra said. "We've had applications recently within the conference that we have not acted upon.

"Will we be looking for something right now? No, we're not in membership mode, but we will take into consideration all our options and move forward."

Westra said he hopes to get the league athletic directors together shortly after the holiday weekend to discuss the future of the league.

Hart said he's not sure whether the league will stay with 12 teams or invite another team to join to keep the number at 13 like it has been, but there are options out there either way.

"There's issues with the (Dakota Athletic Conference) and you don't know how that's going to go," he said of the NAIA conference, of which Black Hills State, Dakota State and School of Mines are a part. BHSU and the School of Mines are currently trying to make the jump to NCAA Division II. "Dakota State will be left without a conference maybe as well as Jamestown or Valley City; you just don't know what the DAC is going to do, so there might be availability for them to come to the GPAC at some point.

"This Dana situation has been a tough deal to handle. I feel bad for their coaches; I feel bad for their athletes and the rest of the student body. I'm thinking more of them than I am us, and I'm hoping everything works out for the kids that are there."