|Allure of the big time captures fancy of Division II schools|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 26 August 2007 21:47|
And while that may not be the motivation for all, schools such as New Haven, Presbyterian and South Dakota State are among seven in the process of moving to Division I, joining 15 others that have begun the transition since 2003-04.
Awaiting those schools are greater opportunities for revenue, whether it's from fat paychecks for playing football road games against BCS powers or from NCAA basketball tournament-fueled revenue distributions.
Sure, there are added costs - millions of dollars' worth, in fact - for day-to-day operations and upgrading facilities.
The pros outweigh the cons, longtime South Dakota State athletics director Fred Oien says, because, ultimately, college sports are about image and ``who you run around with.''
None of the Division I newcomers fathom themselves as superpowers. In fact, only 11 play football.
But they're on their way to becoming Division I, nonetheless, and all harbor hopes of emerging the way little-known Winthrop did when it beat Notre Dame in the NCAA men's basketball tournament in March.
``There is a perception in the minds of young folks - whether true or not - that Division I is the gold standard for athletics,'' said athletics director William ``Bee'' Carlton of the transitioning Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C. ``We offer the gold standard academically. This will allow us to offer the gold standard athletically.''
The cost of doing business in Division I dissuades some schools. The University of Nebraska at Omaha explored the possibility, but figured its $6.7 million budget would have to increase to $10 million or $11 million.
Alarmed by all the moves, Division II leaders have been working for two years to maintain and build on its membership of 296 schools, said Pfeiffer University's Chuck Ambrose, chairman of the Division II President's Council.
Ambrose said Division II has redefined its identity as the optimal college experience, balancing academics and high-level athletics.
Still, some schools yearn for the greater exposure that comes from being among the 327 members of Division I.
``We were destined to go,'' SDSU's Oien said. ``It's because we feel there weren't enough of our peer institutions, academically and athletically, left in Division II.''
South Dakota State is known as the alma mater of place-kicker Adam Vinatieri, the Super Bowl hero for the New England Patriots, and Jim Langer, the Miami Dolphins' Pro Football Hall of Fame center.
But Jackrabbit Nation extends barely outside the city limits of this eastern South Dakota town of 19,000. At the Ram Pub, one of the fan hangouts downtown, SDSU memorabilia adorns the wall. A 1969 football schedule poster features opponents such as Drake, Northern Iowa, Youngstown State and Montana.
``They left us for Division I long ago,'' he said. ``We wanted to get back with that group of schools.''
For South Dakota State, the impetus for migrating was Northern Colorado's move to Division I and the ensuing disintegration of the North Central Conference, once among the most powerful Division II leagues.
When Northern Colorado left in 2003, SDSU and North Dakota State followed, and now the nearby University of South Dakota and University of North Dakota have initiated moves to Division I.
A local issue that nudged South Dakota State, Oien said, was the declining number of high school graduates in rural areas - SDSU's traditional recruiting base. Many of those kids, whether athletes or not, were electing to attend bigger-name schools such as Nebraska, Iowa State and Minnesota.
Jumping to Division I, Oien said, was part of a strategy to change the way South Dakotans view the university. Enrollment grew from about 9,000 five years ago to a record 11,300 in 2006, and Oien said the move to Division I has been a factor.
``Division I is one piece - not the only piece - in a whole bunch of activities that go on that we can use to grow the campus in the face of declining high school graduates,'' Oien said.
SDSU's athletic budget has increased from $4.2 million for 2002-03 to $8.2 million for 2007-08. Athletic scholarships have gone from 92 to 202 over the same period.
Increases in corporate sponsorships, ticket sales and fundraising have paid the way. That's in addition to state funding and student fees. Student fees have not been increased, Oien said, but the fee revenue has risen because enrollment has risen.
SDSU will draw significant additional revenue from playing at least one football game a year against a Bowl Championship Series opponent. Games against Iowa State in 2008 and Minnesota in 2009 will net $300,000 apiece, Oien said. Previously, he said, SDSU would make about $10,000 for playing a road game against a Division II opponent.
With 12-game football schedules now allowed, there are more slots to fill for the so-called Football Bowl Subdivision schools, previously known as I-A schools. Members of the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as I-AA programs, are there to fill the void.
``There are more games to go around than there are FCS schools,'' Oien said. ``We're all in good shape. It's a good deal.''
Oien projects $200,000 a year from guarantees gleaned from playing four road games a season against major men's basketball powers.
An estimated $500,000 more will come to SDSU from contractually guaranteed revenue distributions from the NCAA and Summit League, which the Jackrabbits will join this year. The football team begins play in the Gateway Conference in 2008.
A facilities master plan calls for the construction of an 80,000-square-foot athletic complex that would cost between $12 million and $15 million; a major addition to Frost Arena for women's basketball, volleyball and swimming locker areas; and a 15,000-seat football stadium to replace the dilapidated 45-year-old Coughlin-Alumni Stadium.
New baseball and softball stadiums are under construction, and a 145-acre equestrian facility has been built.
No timetable has been set for the biggest construction projects because funding hasn't been secured. Oien said no additional state tax dollars would be used to pay for the move to Division I.
Ambrose, who heads the Division II President's Council, said he wishes South Dakota State well. But he said the Jackrabbits and other migrating schools are paying a high price for a high-risk endeavor.
He pointed to a 2005 NCAA-commissioned study that said it's unlikely Division II schools will gain financially from migrating to Division I.
Economists Jonathan and Peter Orszag, authors of the study, looked at 20 schools that moved from Division II to Division I between 1994 and 2002. Revenues increased at those schools by an average of $2.5 million, but spending grew an average of $3.7 million, largely because of increased scholarships, salaries and travel.
``The proverbial pot of gold was really not there,'' Ambrose said.
Oien said the study generalizes by lumping small private schools, such as Presbyterian, with large land-grant universities such as SDSU.
Presbyterian's Carlton said his 1,200-student school, like SDSU, is going Division I to raise its profile. He said nearby schools have recruiting advantages over Presbyterian because of their D-I status.
``We were losing some visibility and exposure associated with playing Division I,'' Carlton said. ``We were out of our niche. Furman, Wofford, Davidson ... those types of schools are within two hours of our institution, and so we felt we to a large degree were losing marketplace as we competed for students.''
Not all moves to Division I work out. Birmingham Southern, a 1,400-student Methodist school in Alabama, applied for Division I admission in 1999. Last year, the school initiated the move back to nonscholarship Division III because the program couldn't meet financial projections.
Ambrose said he wouldn't be surprised if a number of migrating schools gravitate back to Division II because the fit is better.
In fact, he said, Oien and South Dakota State are free to return any time.
Told of the open invitation, Oien let out a long, loud laugh.
``That ship has sailed,'' he said.
On the Net:
NCAA Division II: http://www.siue.edu/ATHLETIC/d2/
South Dakota State: http://www3.sdstate.edu/Athletics/
Presbyterian College: http://www.presby.edu/