HANCOCK - The Finlandia athletic program continued its movement towards comprehensive conference affiliation this week with the announcement that the basketball programs would be joining the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference schedule for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.
While this does not mean the basketball teams have joined the conference yet, the move is a positive step towards that ultimate goal.
The move came about when the UMAC accepted Wisconsin-Superior into the conference - giving them an odd number of nine teams. FU Athletic Director Chris Salani has indicated that the UMAC would be open to the inclusion of Finlandia eventually with football now in tow for the Lions.
"This scheduling agreement with the UMAC is a very exciting opportunity for not just our men's and women's basketball programs, but also for our athletics program and campus community as a whole," Salani said. "Having the ability to host and welcome UMAC member schools to our campus, who have not been to Hancock before, will hopefully help to further engage Finlandia Athletics with the membership of the UMAC - which we hope will be a catalyst for future developments with the conference. As we've targeted and openly stated previously, it is a future goal of our athletics program to be able to make application to the UMAC for membership, and we see this scheduling opportunity as the first positive step toward our future ambitions with the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference."
Women's basketball coach Terry Klemett said the nine guaranteed home games against in region teams will be a boon for building the program around campus and in the community.
The Lions women's team had nine home games last season and just four the year before.
He believes consistent opponents that develop rivalries will make for a better college basketball atmosphere.
"There is just something about playing at home and playing the same teams over and over again at home that has a certain intensity," Klemett said.
"And you become better as a team, and better as a player with that intensity each game. There is nothing better than that competitiveness.
"It's good for our community, it's good for team. Just building that community environment for your home games. That's where it is important. You want to have an identity.
"You can't match that."
Klemett believes proving Finlandia can successfully host a full conference schedule will pave the way for eventual full inclusion into the UMAC.
"Obviously there are a lot of factors that go into it and are over my head," Klemett said with a laugh. "But for our part we just want to provide a good atmosphere and competitive games for the UMAC teams."
The women's basketball team will still compete in the Great South Athletic Conference tournament for a chance at the NCAA Tournament over the next two seasons.
But Klemett acknowledges that it will make recruiting easier to have a conference in region.
"The GSAC has been good for us and provides certain opportunities," Klemett said. "But there are times I've talked to recruits outside the Midwest who mentioned a conference as a priority to them. That being said, we have a great recruiting class coming in, so it's not the end all. But joining the UMAC would give us more options."