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Frontier Conference or bust

Raider football program wants in league, will make pitch Tuesday

The Southern Oregon football program's drive to join the Frontier Conference shifts into high gear Tuesday, when SOU athletic director Phil Pifer is scheduled to present the Raiders' case before league athletic directors and coaches.

The presentation is set for 11 a.m. MST in Butte, Mont., where Pifer will try to convince conference officials that the Raiders are a good fit for the six-team alliance.

Azusa Pacific athletic director Bill Odell will also be there representing the Cougars, who are also seeking to join.

Pifer said his presentation will be short.

"We're going over to just make a brief presentation and field any questions they have based on the application that we submitted," he said.

The athletic directors and coaches will then make a recommendation to the Frontier Conference council of presidents, which ultimately decides. That decision could be made by conference call within days or weeks, or held off until the conference's next semiannual meeting, June 5.

Even if the Frontier Conference does accept SOU, the Raiders won't become a full-fledged member - that is, they won't be able to compete for a conference championship - until 2006, according to Frontier Conference Commissioner Ron Kenison. That's because Frontier Conference teams have already laid out their schedules through the 2005 season.

In that scenario, SOU would continue to compete as an independent for the next two seasons.

SOU, which has played an independent schedule since the Columbia Football Association dissolved after the 1998 season, wants to join a conference because its location and status as an NAIA elite program has made scheduling increasingly difficult. In 2003, only three of the Raiders' nine games were at home and their schedule included long road trips to Bethany, Okla. and Silver City, N.M.

Also, as a member of a conference the Raiders could clinch an automatic berth to the national playoffs by winning a league title. Currently, SOU can only gain an automatic playoff berth by finishing as the nation's top-ranked independent.

If SOU or Azusa Pacific, or both, are accepted, league officials will have to decide what format to adopt. Several scenarios are possible, including: a round robin, in which conference teams play each other once, and fill out their schedule with two or three nonconference games; a double round robin, in which conference teams play each other twice, with the second meeting counting as nonconference (this would eliminate the need to scramble for nonconference opponents); and a third option, according to Kenison, in which the conference is divided into two divisions - an east and a west.

The Frontier Conference consists of Carroll, Montana Tech, MSU-Northern, Rocky Mountain, Montana-Western and Eastern Oregon, which was accepted in December.