Division I Dividends

Division I Dividends
Joel Nielsen knows there are some in the Vermillion community who questioned The University of South Dakota's decision last year to move from NCAA Division II to Division I-AA for football and Division I for all other sports.

Nielsen, the university's athletic director, hopes local citizens see the change as more than just a progressive move for the USD.

The strategic plan that the university has developed for the next four years for Division I athletics will also have a positive effect on Vermillion, the region, and the state.

"It will have the same impact on Vermillion and the state as it will have on the (USD) institution," Nielsen said. "We will have greater visibility, and a greater ability to grow and develop at the university, and the same is true for the city of Vermillion. It will have greater visibility, and it will be become bigger and better by attracting new businesses."

What's more, it will give Vermillion an opportunity to adopt a new mindset.

One way that USD grows, he said, is "by getting its message out" through athletics.

Vermillion will likewise be able to spread a positive message about itself, Nielsen believes.

"When we go and play the Wisconsin Badgers, for example, everyone there will learn that The University of South Dakota is located in Vermillion. You won't believe how many people will pull that up on the Web site to find out where Vermillion is located," he said. "And there will be people sitting in their Chicago offices that are Wisconsin alums that will pull up Vermillion on the Web.

"They will at least know about us, and where we are located, and they may think 'I need a distribution house there,' because I'm starting to do more business along I-29," Nielsen said.

The entire state will also benefit from the increased publicity, he said.

"We're very well known for Mt. Rushmore, but we've got other things out here that people may want to see and they will travel here and visit," Nielsen said. "Often times, if you watch a broadcast of a sporting event, the tourism department of the home state buys ads on that television broadcast because they can highlight their attractions.

"That's what we can do by giving our state that national visibility," he said. "We're opening up opportunities – it didn't matter in Mankato, in didn't matter in St. Cloud, it doesn't matter in Omaha – these places all know us, but now we're going to Madison, WI, and other places that don't know us."

By playing larger Division I schools in larger metro areas, Nielsen and the university's athletic squads can spread positive news about Vermillion and the opportunities here.

"When the institution tells me 'we need to be in Chicago more, because we need to get more students from Chicago,' I can take my basketball teams there, soccer, softball, whatever," he said. "We can line up admission days in Chicago around my games."

USD can also arrange to play Division I teams at schools in such urban atmospheres than before, such as Milwaukee, WI, Des Moines, IA, and Kansas City, MO.

In the process, people from those communities will learn what both The University of South Dakota and Vermillion has to offer.

"I can serve what my mission is through the university," Nielsen said, "but I can also serve the city and area and the state."

The USD athletic department has nearly wrapped up its football scheduling for 2008.

"We hope to see something in the next couple weeks as far as a football schedule being announced," Nielsen said. "It is by far the most difficult year for scheduling, and we probably have all but two or three dates either filled or committed for 2009 already, where we couldn't say that for 2008 until about two weeks ago."

Nielsen said that in the next two years, USD football fans will watch the Coyotes play more NAIA Division II teams. "That's just part of this transition; it will start cleaning itself up as early as 2009."

USD's first opportunity to play Division I opponents will come in 2010. "We will be announcing soon our first Division I guaranteed football game that's been scheduled for 2010," he said.

The university's basketball program faces similar scheduling. Neither women's or men's Coyote basketball will be under Division I scheduling requirements in 2008-09 during the first round of transition.

"Our fans need to be patient; they will see opponents in the DakotaDome that are part of a one year scheduling process," Nielsen said. "Beginning with the 2009-10 year, we will be required to follow Division I men's and women's basketball scheduling requirements, which dictate all but four of your games need to be against Division I opponents."

USD football will be a member of the Great West Football Conference. Other teams in the conference include UND, Southern Utah, Cal-Poly and Cal-Davis.

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