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The Front Row with MARK NELKE December 9, 2010

| December 9, 2010 8:00 PM

The home-and-home with Salish Kootenai is understandable.

But then there’s the North Idaho All-Stars, followed by the Gonzaga University club team. A couple weeks later, the North Idaho All-Stars were back for a return visit, followed by the Spokane All-Stars.

And when the North Idaho College men’s basketball team began play in last weekend’s Bigfoot-Cardinal Classic, guess who the Cardinals’ first-round foe was?

Yep — the Gonzaga University club team again.

What? No Marathon Oil? No Athletes in Action? No Little Sisters of the Poor?

If you were kinda wondering why NIC’s nonleague schedule looked like that, well, Cardinals coach Jared Phay was having to answer that question from other people as well.

“It’s not like we want to do this,” Phay said the other day, after his Cardinals (13-0), ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA, beat the Community Colleges of Spokane — another actual college basketball team — in the championship game. “We want to get game experience, so we still play those games — it just boils down to the budgets.”

Other than its Scenic West Athletic Conference road trips, and its three-game jaunt to Montana and North Dakota in November, Phay said NIC has no other travel money left.

The Cardinal men have a $33,000 travel budget, and all that money is accounted for with those trips.

“We have no more money to pay teams to come here, and no money to go anywhere else,” Phay said.

Now if a wealthy booster or a local business wanted to write a check, NIC could make that happen.

And regionally, other than CC Spokane, NIC has a hard time scheduling other teams in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges. They have their own budget issues, Phay said, and they suffered cutbacks on the number of games they could play. NIC might be welcome to come to their place, Phay said, but they can’t afford to come here.

In fact, one reason NIC and CCS were able to attract six NWAACC teams to the Cardinal-Bigfoot Classic — Clackamas, Green River, Edmonds, Highline and Shoreline also joined the fray — was the NWAACC teams could play three games and it only counted as two games toward their limit of games.

The Coeur d’Alene High girls basketball team came out of last weekend’s Nike Northwest Invitational in Beaverton, Ore., with a third-place finish and an invitation to two tournaments next season.

The Vikings were invited back to the Nike tourney next year — and also invited to one in Jacksonville, Fla., home of Potter’s House Christian Academy, who won the Nike tourney last weekend. If Coeur d’Alene had won its semifinal game, it would have played Potter’s House Christian in the championship game. Potter’s House Christian won its three tournament games by a total of 113 points.

“Potter’s House Christian was ranked seventh in the nation and definitely above the rest of us in talent,” Coeur d’Alene coach Dale Poffenroth said.

Poffenroth said if he could take his team to Jacksonville for the same amount of money it cost for the Beaverton trip, he would go to Florida next season (the tourney is scheduled for Dec. 17-19, 2011).

Coeur d’Alene also plays in the Coeur d’Alene Holiday Inn Express Invitational at North Idaho College over the Christmas holidays so playing in three tournaments next year might be a bit much, he said.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via e-mail at mnelke@cdapress.com.

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