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Conference affiliation a must for FU/Paul Peterson

May 2, 2012
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

Former Suomi College (now Finlandia University) men's basketball coach Tom Renier once told me that scheduling home games was the toughest part of his job.

"It's almost like we're located in Alaska," Renier noted in the early 1980's. "No one wants to travel up here and we can't get into a league."

Finlandia sports teams - and coaches - still face the same dilemma.

The problem was best illustrated just last week when a very good FU women's softball team was snubbed when it came to postseason play.

By all accounts, coach Shawn Hendrickson's 26-8 Lions certainly had the credentials to play in the postseason.

They boasted a player in senior Brittany Garland, who posted a 24-8 record on the mound. Garland also hit a team-leading .432 and should gain All-American honors for her work.

And Finlandia also decisively beat three of the teams that did qualify. Those teams got in because they have a conference affiliation - something most FU teams don't have.

Of the seven men's and six women's sports sponsored by the university, only the men's and women's hockey and men's soccer teams are in a league.

Finlandia Athletic Director Chris Salani has worked long and hard to get the school's men's and women's basketball teams and the softball team into a league.

"It has been a longstanding problem for us," he said this past winter. "We just haven't been able to work out anything yet."

The Lions men's hoops team had just four home games this past season, winning all four. But having to play 19 of 23 games on the road resulted in an under-.500 record for what was a pretty talented team.

In Renier's coaching days, Suomi was a junior college. As a result, the team always had a shot at playing in a postseason tournament, and actually did pretty well with players like Ernie Montgomery and Matthew Johnson in starring roles.

Even being in a conference wasn't enough for the Finlandia men's hockey team a few years ago when they won the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs. FU was passed over for a spot in the Division III tournament that season as the league did not have an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament then.

Under Salani's guidance, the Lions sports program has made great advances since the days when men's basketball was the only sport offered.

And school officials speak of the day when football may actually be offered to students. After all, there is already a sparkling new field at the site of the former Condon Field.

I have many doubts about that happening in the near future for two reasons: 1. Football is going to require a minimum of 60 players; 2. The current FU student body is about 60 percent female.

Still, it is going to take a conference affiliation if the school is to move forward in any sport it offers.



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