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SDSU, USD believe rivalry will be renewed -- someday

The football teams from South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota bumped into each other last year at the Sioux Falls airport while en route to separate games.

The football teams from South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota bumped into each other last year at the Sioux Falls airport while en route to separate games.

It's the closest the two teams have come since 2003, when SDSU's move to Division I broke up a rivalry that was 104 games old.

USD is now transitioning to Division I, leading some fans to wonder when the two teams will meet again. A similar situation exists in North Dakota, where legislation was introduced to require annual football games between North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota.

In South Dakota, officials at both SDSU and USD say they believe the rivalry will be renewed someday.

Just not any time in the next few years.

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"We want to make sure it's going to benefit both institutions," Rob Peterson, SDSU's associate athletic director for internal operations, said Wednesday. "Right now, that's not something we can say."

Peterson said SDSU -- which is a full-fledged, playoff-eligible Division I institution -- is scheduling as many quality Division I opponents as it can in order to strengthen its football schedule and position itself for a playoff invitation. The same goes for basketball, he said, in which SDSU's Jackrabbits and USD's Coyotes have not met since the 2003-04 season.

SDSU considers USD a quality opponent, Peterson said, but USD is in transition and might not contribute to SDSU's strength-of-schedule in the way that a game against a full-fledged Division I opponent could.

"Once they're a certified Division I program, there's a possibility that could occur," Peterson said of scheduling a football or basketball game. "Right now, we need to do what's best for us."

USD Director of Athletics Joel Nielson said the strength-of-schedule objection will be largely nullified next fall, when the Coyotes are scheduled to become a Division I "counter." That means they'll count as a legitimate Division I opponent, even though they will not be playoff eligible until 2012.

Nielson acknowledged, though, that there are several other difficulties standing in the way of an SDSU vs. USD football game. One factor is the nature of college football scheduling, which is done years in advance and includes multi-year agreements. Squeezing any team into the schedule -- even an in-state rival -- can be difficult.

Money is also a factor. SDSU and USD, which play in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA) receive payouts in the neighborhood of $300,000 to play early-season, non-conference games at bigger institutions such as the University of Minnesota, which is in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-A). Nielson said it would be "extremely difficult" for any university to give up that kind of money in exchange for a game with an in-state rival.

Conference memberships further complicate matters. SDSU, for example, plays eight conference games in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. That leaves only a few opportunities for non-conference games, and Peterson said SDSU wants at least one of those to be a "money game" with a big-time opponent like Minnesota.

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USD, meanwhile, plays in the Great West Football Conference. When SDSU and USD were in Division II, they both played in the North Central Conference.

For now, SDSU and USD do compete in some sports besides football and basketball. And USD is being eyed for potential inclusion in the Summit League, the conference in which most of SDSU's teams -- other than football -- play. If USD were to gain membership in the league, USD vs. SDSU basketball games would be scheduled regularly.

When a football game might be scheduled is anybody's guess.

"I absolutely think there'll be a day when it will happen, hopefully as soon as it can be," Nielson said, "because it would be good for the state and good for both institutions."

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