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Tigers part of "pod system"

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

For years, the MIAA has had a balanced schedule. Every team played other conference opponents home and away. This season, though, with the conference encountering several changes, the MIAA stopped the even slate and went to a "pod system."

In the last year, the conference dropped University of Nebraska-Omaha and added four teams.

In Fort Hays State University's case, the Tigers are in a pod with Washburn University, Northwest Missouri State University, Missouri Western and University of Nebraska-Kearney. The Tigers will play those four squads home/away. The Tigers will play every other team once.

Perhaps no MIAA team is affected negatively more than FHSU, especially the Tiger women.

"It's luck of the draw and we came up with craps basically," coach Tony Hobson said in his weekly news conference last Monday.

The Tiger women, ranked No. 18 in NCAA Division II, are 10-3 and 2-3 MIAA, while the men stand at 9-4, 3-2 MIAA. On Thursday, the women lost 63-60 to Washburn at home, and the men lost 70-69.

"This game is so important because they are in our pod," coach Mark Johnson said before the loss. "We feel like Washburn, end of the year, they are going to be up there somewhere, and we have to go back to their place. So you really can't afford to lose at home. ... It just takes on a little more significance because of that."

Both squads had a rare Saturday off and will next play host to Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University on Wednesday.

In the pod, the FHSU men have to twice play Washburn and Northwest Missouri, the conference's lone two teams ranked in the top 25 nationally. Plus, the Tigers have just one game against Northeastern (Okla.) State University and Pittsburg State University. Northeastern is 10-3, and PSU is tied for second. Both of those games come on the road.

In the preseason, the FHSU women stood fifth behind Washburn, Pittsburg State, Emporia State and Northeastern. Like the men, Fort Hays plays Washburn twice and PSU, ESU and NSU once -- all on the road. Fort Hays' three losses have come against NSU, ESU and Washburn.

"You would like to play more of the teams on the road for one game that are maybe in the lower part of the league," Hobson said. "So we knew it was going to be tough."

Plus, Fort Hays won't catch a break next year and get PSU, ESU and NSU at home. The MIAA will change its format next season when Truman State (Mo.) University leaves for the GLVC.

"This pod system that is just goofy and this one-year scheduling," Hobson said.

"Next year, we will play those teams home and home. We won't get Emporia and Pitt just at home and not have to go there."