USD task force gives a green light to Division I

USD task force gives a green light to Division I
The University of South Dakota Athletic Review Task Force announced Nov. 7 its recommendation that USD pursue NCAA Division I for athletics.

The 26-member task force voted 21-4, with one abstention, that USD pursue NCAA Division I classification for its intercollegiate athletic program, with Division I-AA classification for football. The Coyotes currently compete in NCAA Division II and the North Central Conference (NCC).

"I would like to thank the members of the task force and my co-chair, John Lillibridge, for their contributions to this effort," said co-chair Tina Keller. "I feel we accomplished a great deal given the timeline under which we were working."

The USD task force will host two open forums on campus to discuss the findings and recommendation. The first open forum will begin at noon Nov. 14 in Farber Hall in the Old Main Building. The second session will begin at 7 p.m. Nov. 21 in the Al Neuharth Media Center.

Plans call for releasing the task force report to the public, with the open forums focusing on receiving public feedback, said USD athletic director Joel Nielsen.

"It has been scheduled and is being held to further communicate with the constituency groups that have interests and opinions, who would like to share their thoughts and ideas about either the recommendation or the report," he said.

USD officials chose this summer to reconsider classification and conference affiliation when the University of North Dakota announced it was leaving the NCC and entering Division I with its 2007-08 exploratory year.

UND�s departure will leave the NCC with five teams, short of the minimum six members needed for automatic playoff berths. Besides USD, Augustana College and Nebraska-Omaha are considering their future plans.

The USD task force broke into six sub-committees, looking at areas ranging from fund raising to facilities.

The task force presented its report and recommendation Nov. 6 to President Jim Abbott, who said he will make a final decision by next month. Abbott is not bound by either the task force report or the recommendations of the Inter-Collegiate Athletic Consulting group.

ICAC managing director Andy Fellingham told �town hall meetings� in Vermillion, Sioux Falls and Rapid City last week that his firm recommends reclassifying to Division I. The move would help USD pursue a national marketing and student recruitment campaign, part of the university�s goal of enrolling 10,000 to 12,000 students, he said.

The ICAC also advises USD to seek membership in the Mid-Continent Conference and the Great West Football Conference, and partnering with UND to make a more attractive package.

USD would also need to review its long-term facility needs and anticipate raising an estimated additional $1.9 million annually, Fellingham said.

USD should not move to Division I without a conference, Keller said. The task force did not recommend a particular conference, but its members looked at various leagues and their compatibility with USD�s long-term goals, she said.

The task force also considered ways of attracting a conference invitation, Keller said. �There are strengths involved with partnering with other institutions (as new members), and UND is a possibility,� she said.

The decision on moving to Division I goes far beyond athletics, Nielsen said.

�As I have said all along, if this was just an athletic decision, the president would have called on me to make the decision,� he said. �One of the reasons the task force was formed was the amount of time, energy and resources needed to provide adequate information and the proper background (for making the best decision).�

Keller agreed, saying the decision remains part of a broader picture affecting the entire university.

�The important thing – is this going to be a good decision for USD?� she said. �How does it contribute to student life, contribute to enrollment goals, to the things we do on campus?�

The task force took into account the role that Division I could play in a national marketing and student recruitment campaign, Keller said.

�There are a limited number of students in South Dakota wishing to pursue higher education,� she said. �A larger fraction of a small number is still a small number.�

The 21-4 vote in favor of Division I reflected a strong overall sentiment among the task force members, Nielsen said.

The intense interest shown in USD�s decision on Division I reflects well on the university, Nielsen said.

�I think this was a positive sign for the institution, as a number of different constituencies and individuals are interested in the future of USD,� he said.

�This is part of the strategic plan and part of the mission of where this institution plans to go in the next 20-plus years. I am quite encouraged by the amount of involvement from the different constituencies and groups.�

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