Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2012, 8:33 pm

Augie ends men's hoops series with SAU

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By Tom Johnston,

The end game is going to cost the Quad-Cities one of the most intriguing and well-attended college men's basketball games each year.

After this year – and maybe even including the scheduled Dec. 5 game for this season – Augustana and St. Ambrose will not continue their cross-river rivalry.

"It was not a difficult decision,'' said Grey Giovanine, Augie men's basketball coach, "but it was an unfortunate one.''

One that came down to what Augustana coaches and officials say was best for their program and student-athletes.

"Our decision to not schedule future basketball games against St. Ambrose is based completely upon putting our program in the best position possible to qualify for the NCAA Tournament," said Mike Zapolski, Augustana athletic director. "The current selection criteria place an emphasis on playing games against NCAA Division III opponents. As a former committee member (2007-10), I can assure you that one additional win can make the difference in the final Pool C (at large) selections. Any of our team sports contending for NCAA post-season play are well-served by playing a complete non-conference schedule against NCAA Division III opponents."

Games against SAU, an NAIA affiliated school, do not get recognized by the tournament selection committee. As a result, the Vikings have been left without a full schedule in the eyes of that group. According to Giovanine, that lack of a 25th game has cost the Vikings a tournament bid two of the last four years.

"We've been told that we were one Div. III win from being an at-large selection,'' said Giovanine. "It's clear that we have to give our program and our students who participate, the best chance to participate in the NCAA National Tournament.''

Ray Shovlain, SAU coach and athletic director, certainly understood the decision from Augustana officials, but regretted that it was one that had to be made.

"It's very unfortunate that we're not going to be able to continue to play men's basketball,'' said Shovlain. "It brought a lot of recognition to both programs and was always a well-played, highly-intense contest that better prepared you for later in the season for conference opponents.''

Shovlain has always maintained that he formulates a tough pre-Midwest Collegiate Conference schedule "irregardless of division or national affiliation'' and hated to lose a quality opponent from the schedule.

"Since we recognize Augie men's basketball as one of the top programs in the Midwest, that's who we always want to play,'' said Shovlain, "and continue to play.''

But considering the situation, he also made a magnanimous gesture to Augustana officials.

"If we're hurting their playoff chances significantly, then we're willing to not play this year,'' said Shovlain of the Dec. 5 games schedule for Augie's Carver Center.

That is an offer Giovanine said Augie officials are weighing.

"In the course of the next week, if there is a Div. III team that is still looking, we may do that,'' said Giovanine. "But I think that is unlikely. We did appreciate the offer, though.''

When this men's basketball series ends, it leaves no cross-river rivalries in the higher-profile sports, with football, basketball (men and women) and baseball not playing.

In the men's basketball series, Augustana holds a 59-34 edge, with wins in the last four meetings and eight of the last 10. The teams have met once a year since 1991, with the exception of 2009-10 when St. Ambrose stepped aside, opening up a date for the Vikings to play at Division I Gonzaga.