What Augustana coach Grey Giovanine calls "just a remarkable convergence of circumstances" will result in his NCAA Division III Vikings challenging Division I power Gonzaga in a regular-season road game next season.

The Vikings will meet the Bulldogs on Dec. 9 in Spokane, Wash.

For this season only, the contest will replace Augustana's annual matchup with crosstown rival St. Ambrose, a game that originally had been scheduled for the same date.

Giovanine said the chance to challenge Gonzaga in a venue that is considered to be among the best in college basketball was too great an opportunity to bypass and one that will pay dividends both financially and on the recruiting trail.

Augustana previously has played regular-season games against regional Division I opponents such as Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois and, most recently, Southern Illinois.

It also has played a recent exhibition season game at Northern Illinois, as smaller programs frequently do.

"An exhibition game is one thing," Giovanine said. "But a regular-season game against a perrennial top 20 team is just not something that happens at this level. It is great exposure and just kind of a great event for our program and, really, for the college."

Giovanine spent half his career at the Division I level, first as an assistant coach and finally as head coach at Lamar, and he said the opportunity to play Gonzaga arises from friendships he developed in that early portion of his career.

One of those friends is Gonzaga head coach Mark Few. An even closer friend is Ray Giacoletti, who was an assistant at a pair of Giovanine's previous stops and who Few hired as his lead assistant two years ago.

Giovanine said he previously had spoken with both about scheduling an exhibition between the two teams, but he said NCAA limitations on money the bigger schools can offer exhibition opponents made such a trip cost-prohibitive.

"Two weeks ago, (Few) called and said 'Hey what about a regular-season game,'" the Augie coach said. "I said 'How on earth can you justify playing Augustana in a regular-season game?'"

As it turns out, the Vikings are a beneficiary of Gonzaga's remarkable success at the McCarthey Athletic Center, also known as "The Kennel." The Bulldogs are 63-3 there since the facility opened in 2004.

"They had come up a game short on their regular-season schedule and they couldn't get a Division I opponent to fill the date," Giovanine said. "They needed a specific date and nobody is excited about playing in 'The Kennel.'

"But (Few) said, "I knew you'd do it,'" Giovanine said. "I said, 'Yeah, let's do it!'"

The coach said his program will receive a five-figure guarantee that will pay expenses and leave a fair amount to help fund the Vikings' scheduled summer 2010 tour of China.

He said the trip to Spokane also will impress potential recruits.

"Then," he said, "you show a picture of our team on the Great Wall of China and we have really separated ourselves from other programs."

Giovanine said Ambrose coach and athletic director Ray Shovlain willingly stepped aside to allow the Vikings that opportunity.

That series will resume next year, he said.