"The board has carefully considered this request and supports USD in its move to Division I, with the understanding that the university will become a member of an appropriate athletic conference," said Regents President Harvey C. Jewett.
"The University of South Dakota is pleased to receive the board's approval," said USD President James W. Abbott. "We were confident that we had conducted a thorough study and fully responded to questions posed about this change. Now we are ready to move forward and transition into an exploratory year as we address such primary issues as alumni and fan support, conference affiliation, and funding."
In approving the request, regents reiterated support for an athletic policy adopted in December 2002 as South Dakota State University was making its initial move to Division I. The board's policy has established specific financial and other requirements for any of its institutions that participate at the NCAA Division I level.
The detailed athletics policy sets out clear expectations for funding, student fees, scholarships, and other criteria, and USD will be expected to abide by those requirements as it makes its move to Division I, Jewett said.
Support for intercollegiate athletics from the student general activity fee may only increase at the fee's annual rate of inflation, as determined by the regents. Additionally, general fund support for salaries, benefits, or operational expenses may only increase at rates equivalent to what is otherwise appropriated for the universities' base budgets.
"This provision limits increases in student fees and state funding to the regular, ongoing costs of operating the institutions, regardless of athletic classification," Jewett said.
The board's policy states that the proportion of general activity fees allocated to athletic facilities at the time an institution is approved for Division I status may not be increased to fund new or expanded athletic and support facilities. Monies from the state's Higher Education Facilities Fund also may not be used to fund or maintain new or expanded athletic and support facilities.
The regents' action to approve the USD reclassification came after the board took public comment on the request at a hearing Dec. 11 in Sioux Falls.
The 9-0 vote by the Regents allows the university to enter an exploratory year in 2007-08. The exploratory year is a transition year allowing the university to address primary issues including: alumni and fan support, conference affiliation and funding.
"Everyone at the university understands that there will be challenges ahead. We believe we owe it to our students, our alumni and the university community to ensure that our programs remain competitive," said Abbott. "The University of South Dakota, the state's flagship institution founded in 1862, values its role as the state's comprehensive liberal arts institution. This approval by the South Dakota Board of Regents allows the university to compete with institutions that share our commitment to academics and have a similar mission."
Approval also permits USD to further solidify its financial model, including targeting and pursuing additional fundraising opportunities, developing a pro forma, which is a projected statement of revenues and expenses, for the athletic budget and demonstrating its commitment to Division I through seeking conference affiliation.
Currently, The University of South Dakota participates at the NCAA Division II level and is a member of the North Central Conference (NCC). The university sponsors 17 intercollegiate, varsity sports with more than 350 student athletes.
In July, Abbott appointed a 26 member Athletic Review Task Force, chaired by First Fidelity Bank President John Lillibridge and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Tina Keller, to review the university's NCAA division classification and conference affiliation. The task force, comprised of students, faculty, alumni, administrators, coaches and community members, retained the Inter-Collegiate Athletic Consulting group to assist in a comprehensive review.
On Nov. 6, 2006, the task force recommended to President Abbott that the university reclassify its athletic programs to Division I.
On Nov. 29, 2006, the university announced its intentions to reclassify its athletic teams to Division I, pending approval from the Board of Regents. The Regents held a public forum in Sioux Falls, on Dec. 11 to gather testimony from the university's staff, students, foundation and supporters, as well as hear the results of the Inter-Collegiate Athletic Consulting group's report.�
Thursday's announcement allows USD to continue its plans to reclassify its athletic programs. The university will formally submit notification to the NCC and the NCAA of its intentions in the near future.
"On behalf of the Coyote athletic department, I commend the South Dakota Board of Regents for approving the university's request to reclassify to NCAA Division I," said Joel Nielsen, the university's athletic director. "This move demonstrates our commitment of presenting our student-athletes with the highest possible competitive experience during their careers, while simultaneously reinforcing our continued pursuit of academic excellence. President Abbott deserves credit for clearly articulating his vision for the future of USD."