USD embarks, destination: Division I

USD embarks, destination: Division I
Citing his concerns about the future of NCAA Division II and the North Central Conference, President Jim Abbott gave the green light Nov. 29 for The University of South Dakota to make the jump to Division I.

On Thursday, Abbott's fears became reality as NCC Commissioner Roger Thomas announced the league would fold, likely playing its final games after the 2007-2008 school year.

While news of the demise brought sadness among NCC fans, a sampling of USD players, alumni and boosters said they looked forward to their new home in the major-college ranks. The Coyotes will enter their exploratory year in 2007-08 as they make the transition to Division I-AA in football and I-A for all other sports.


USD basketball player Tate Pesicka and Coyote track-cross country runner Sean Fitzsimmons, both 2006 Yankton High School graduates, said Thursday they found athletes and students in general showing excitement about the Division I move.

Pesicka and Fitzsimmons said they welcome the opportunity to compete head to head against the nation's best athletes.

"We have all the guys on our team who are capable of playing at that level. It's a matter of getting the right attitude to step up and play," Pesicka said. "I think we're pretty close to Division I right now (with the NCC). It's a tough, physical conference with tremendous athletes. Every night, you bring your game to win."

Fitzsimmons said he and other athletes see themselves as part of a historic time at USD, rather than focusing on the inability to compete in post-season action during the transition to Division I.

"Hopefully, we can build a solid foundation under us as we move to Division I," he said. "There will be great opportunities, not only for USD but for the state itself to make a name for ourselves and earn national recognition."

While Fitzsimmons has run against Division I athletes, the USD move will provide the opportunity for all Coyotes, he said.

"We have a lot of talented people in all sorts of sports. But right now, those who excel the most don't get to compete against the best in Division I, the best in the nation," he said. "We have a lot of good kids from the area. Hopefully, by USD going Division I, more athletes will stay in the area."

Yankton High School girls' basketball coach Doug Pesicka is watching USD's move in two respects: As the father of a USD athlete and the coach of athletes who are recruited.

"I think, quite honestly, it's an exciting time for collegiate athletics with South Dakota now looking at two Division I schools in our state (USD and South Dakota State)," he said. "There are very good high school players in this area of the country. If you look around our state, there are a lot of pretty good players who are competing in Division I athletics."

The Division I move will also offer excitement for fans, he predicted. "We in South Dakota don't get the opportunity to see much Division I athletics, and now it will be 23 miles from our front door. You don't have to travel to Lincoln or Minneapolis."

Like Doug Pesicka, Dan and Cecilia (Rew) Fitzsimmons see the USD move in different ways: As parents of an athlete, as alumni and as former USD tracksters, with Cecilia in the Coyote Hall of Fame.

The Division I move will also offer excitement for fans, he predicted. �We in South Dakota don�t get the opportunity to see much Division I athletics, and now it will be 23 miles from our front door. You don�t have to travel to Lincoln or Minneapolis.�

Like Doug Pesicka, Dan and Cecilia (Rew) Fitzsimmons see the USD move in different ways: As parents of an athlete, as alumni and as former USD tracksters, with Cecilia in the Coyote Hall of Fame.

Dan Fitzsimmons pointed to his YHS girls cross country team – top-ranked in the nation by a running magazine – as an example of the ability to compete with any level of competition.

�Our girls� cross country team could run with any Division I program in the country, and that�s from a community of 13,000 people without an opportunity to recruit,� he said

Cecilia said she sees the providing nationwide exposure which can boost enrollment. �For women�s athletics, it has to be a huge improvement, with more scholarships and money.�

Fund raising to meet the larger athletic budget will be a challenge, said USD booster Jim Robinson of Yankton.

�There are a lot of graduates of the university who don�t live in this area and they need to be brought forth, not only for athletics but to help the school grow,� he said. �President Abbott has emphasized this will not take away from academics to build athletics.�

Vermillion businessman and USD alumnus Scott Munger said the school was left with few choices. While he sees Division I as positive, he is waiting to see the ability to raise funds and meet Title IX requirements for gender equity.

�With no North Central Conference, this is clearly the best option for the University,� he said. �The only other option would be the Northern Sun Conference. So it comes down to the question: Would you rather hang out with Northern Iowa or Upper Iowa?�

USD alumnus Jerry Carda of Beresford, also the parent of a Coyote women�s basketball player, said the Division I move can benefit academics as well as athletics by promoting campus growth, and more research and programs.

�I am a big fan of the old NCC,� he said. �I hope we get back the rivalries, but I also hope we add new schools. Then let�s have some fun.�

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>