WHITEFISH – When Southern Oregon joined the Frontier Conference as an associate member in football in 2012, SOU director of athletics Matt Sayre was relieved the Raiders had found a home.
But with SOU’s shortest trip being some 475 miles and the longest staring down nearly 1,100, Sayre recognized the greatest challenge of the Frontier Conference.
“Just distance, man. Out here in the west, they just don’t understand what we’re going through with distances between programs and trying to get teams from one point to another. But everyone works really well together out here,” said Sayre. “That’s been always good.”
As eye-opening as the distances are for football programs in the league, scheduling nonconference opponents in sports like men’s and women’s basketball can be an even greater challenge.
“Not everybody wants to come to Montana to play, especially when they’re playing top-ranked teams in the NAIA, because it’s usually guaranteed a loss,” said Jeff Malby, the director of athletics at Rocky Mountain College. “Even this year, we did well nationally. It’s amazing what we did nationally. We are very well-respected, that’s what I figured out, found out when I was at that national convention, how well-respected the Frontier is as far as competitive, the academic level of students.”
The Frontier has enjoyed a strong partnership with its neighbor to the west, the Cascade Collegiate Conference, for nonconference contests in basketball and volleyball, while the Cascade has also welcomed Frontier schools in other sports with open arms.
“We have sports that they don’t sponsor and some of their institutions are associate members of the Frontier and vice versa,” explained Charlie Gross, the director of athletics at Carroll College. “For example, at Carroll College, we have softball and men’s and women’s soccer, which the Frontier doesn’t have, so we’re an associate member of the Cascade. So, you need to have those types of agreements and arrangements to be able to make sure you can provide opportunities to your students.”
College of Idaho AD Reagan Rossi agrees that both leagues have been, and continue to be, great about finding creative ways to provide student-athletes the best experience possible.
“I think the great thing about both conferences is that you have great athletic directors, you have great commissioners, you have great presidents who all keep the eye on student-athlete experience,” said Rossi. “As long as you can keep that as your focus, you can do some really good things.”
“They’ve done an outstanding job coming together and doing what’s best for, what is best for the student-athlete experience and what is best for the NAIA west region,” added Eastern Oregon women’s basketball coach and AD Anji Weissenfluh. “We’re very fortunate to belong in both.”