No tough opponents at USD’s D-I hearing

No tough opponents at USD's D-I hearing
The Board of Regents found one thing missing during Monday's hearing on The University of South Dakota's proposed move to NCAA Division I-AA for football and Division I for all other sports: opposition.

The meeting on the Southeast Tech campus featured a presentation by USD officials as well as comments – all of them positive – by USD supporters and the general public.

The Regents will now decide whether to approve the D-I move at Thursday's regular meeting on the South Dakota Tech campus in Rapid City. While the D-I move generally focuses on athletics, Monday's meeting also looked at the impact of the D-I move on academics, fund raising and facilities.


Regent Carole Pagones of Sioux Falls, questioned whether USD can meet the estimated $2 million increase in the athletic budget – from the current $5 million annually to $7 million annually – with the move to Division I in 2007-08.

USD has already shown its ability to far surpass fund-raising expectations, said USD Foundation chair Warren Prostrollo. "Campaign South Dakota has a goal of $60 million. In three weeks, we are closing the campaign and have achieved twice that goal," he said.

"What it demonstrates is the ability of the Foundation to reach out to its constituent base. Our image is one of a search for excellence in academics, and athletics is part of that formula."

During a break in the meeting, USD Foundation President Ted Muenster pointed to a number of possible revenue sources for covering the expanded athletic budget. Under the Regents' policy, the additional money must come from private sources, he said. "We have gate revenues, and increased enrollment will generate more student fees," he said.

"We also get guarantees for games we play with higher-profile schools. We could receive up to hundreds of thousands of dollars generated from those games. I could see us being early-season games for the Big 12 and Big 10 schools."

To raise more funds, USD would need to expand its donor base, Muenster said. "People are excited about D-I, and more of them may open their checkbooks who have never given before," he said.

USD has learned a great deal from other regional schools who have made the jump to D-I, including South Dakota State University of Brookings, Muenster said. "I give (SDSU) all the credit in the world. They have paved the way by what they did earlier. It has made our job easier," he said. During her questioning, Pagones asked if USD officials have conducted a facilities assessment. "A conference wouldn't come in and turn its nose up at (the facilities)?" she asked.

USD, with its 10,000-seat DakotaDome, would fall in the middle of Division I facilities, said Andy Fellingham with the Inter-Collegiate Athletic Consulting (ICAC) group of New York. "We know where the warts are and the gems are on the campus. USD has the sufficient facilities to go D-I right now," he said. "If USD wants, they can upgrade at a later time. You have to look at this as a holistic approach. Certain things have to occur over the next 10 years."

The D-I move would also carry staffing requirements, said USD athletic director Joel Nielsen. The $2 million increase would include not only $600,000 for additional scholarships but another $775,000 for personnel costs, including NCAA compliance officers, he said. The $7 million athletic budget would put USD in the middle of D-I funding, Fellingham said.

Should the Regents approve the D-I move , USD President Jim Abbott said The University would work on a financial presentation over the next four to five months covering the D-I expenses. The presentation would use current enrollment, with all of the nearly 9,000 students paying the activity fee which helps fund athletics, he said.

"Andy (Fellingham) told us to be conservative on our revenue forecasts and not as conservative in our cost projections," Abbott said.

USD has already tapped into new recruiting markets for admissions, he said. "You can take advantage if the door is open. You can't take advantage if the door is closed," he said. Abbott said such gains are part of the effort to increase freshmen numbers to 1,200 and total enrollment to about 10,000, he said.

USD athletes Carrie Gonsor and Tyler Evans both expressed support for the move to Division I. They noted the North Central Conference has disbanded and left Coyote athletes without former rivalries or competition. Gonsor, a track athlete, said the transition to the major-college ranks will be difficult but will challenge USD athletes. "It will be a arena of competition that no one has experienced before. It will be new for all of us," she said.

"The coaches said they will help us and be there for us. The experience of the students coming in will be positive." The D-I move will play a key role in USD's continuing improvements in academics and around campus, Gonsor said.

Evans, a football player, noted only five NCC schools remain out of the 10-team field when he entered USD, a departure he likened to jumping off "faster than the Titanic."

One of the biggest votes of confidence came from a non-alumnus – Vermillion businessman Jared Higman, who played for the national D-I champion Nebraska Cornhusker football team of 1994.

Higman sees the D-I move leading to more diversity and business opportunities in Vermillion and the entire state. "There are a lot of good things happening to the state. We had 32 employees when we first moved here about a year ago (with Masaba, Inc.), and now we are up to 60 employees," Higman said.

In closing, Regents President Harvey Jewett said the board will carefully consider whether USD can meet the board's policy enacted when SDSU requested and received D-I approval in 2002. "The University has to be prepared to discuss the conditions and be prepared to comply with them," he said. "We heard what was said and what was not said (Monday), and we will make our decision Thursday."

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