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January 29, 2013

VSU: No move to Division I in future

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University’s athletic department has become a constant reminder of what a winning tradition looks like.  

Since May 2011, that winning tradition has been magnified, thanks to the school’s three Division II national championships, which will be honored with a parade on Wednesday.

The university doesn’t plan on changing that winning, championship tradition either.

Valdosta State athletic director Herb Reinhard made it clear that he likes the winning tradition that has been built at the Division II level, and that a move to Division I doesn’t make sense at this time.

“It is rewarding on a lot of levels,” Reinhard said, of the national championships. “If we were to go Division I, the possibility of us winning a national championship ever again is not very good. ... The national championships are special. I think they are special to Valdosta.”

Reinhard’s notion of remaining a Division II university was backed by VSU president Dr. William J. McKinney.

“At this point in time, the financial model for going to Division I doesn’t make sense to me,” McKinney said. “If you look at all of the Division I football programs, there are only a handful of them that are money makers. We are in a position here where we have a winning tradition in Division II. I have not seen where the cost benefit analysis has proven that move.”

Questions of whether Valdosta State would move to the Division I level started with fans posting to various forms of publications and social media. In the end, such a move would be based on financial numbers, said Reinhard.

Valdosta State’s annual athletic budget is $3.7 million in 2012-13, one of the highest among Division II schools. That budget would have to double if the university were to move to Division I, according to Reinhard.   

“People say we would join one of two conferences — the Southern Conference, which would not be a possibility because they’ve made it pretty clear they are not interested in Division II schools, or the Atlantic Sun,” Reinhard said. “The Atlantic Sun doesn’t have football, so that would be a strange situation. But the mid-point budget in the Atlantic Sun is about $9 million, adjusted for football. So we would have to double, significantly double, our athletic budget.”

 Along with an annual athletic budget increase of more than $5 million, Valdosta State would also have to apply to the NCAA in order to become a Division I program, which alone is a $1 million fee. From there, the university would need to find a new conference to compete in, and would have to endure a four-year transitional process where teams are ineligible for NCAA postseason play.

With many publicly funded universities in Georgia facing tough economic times — eight colleges and universities recently consolidated to make four new schools — the University System of Georgia Board of Regents is cracking down on schools making jumps to higher classifications for athletic purposes.

While no athletic department in the state of Georgia is publicly funded, the Board of Regents has appointed a special subcommittee to look at all future changes, including increasing expenditures in intercollegiate athletics.

The move from a lower-level classification, like Division II, to a higher-level, like Division I, would fall under the new committee’s category.

A school’s move to Division I would result in a significant increase in spending, which would require a higher student athletic fee for students, McKinney said.  

“What we are seeing out of the board is that they are really slowing this process down until they do some significant investigation,” McKinney said. “There were actually a couple of schools in the USG that were looking to increase their athletic fee budget and at least one of those has been put on hold, pending what this committee finds.”

The majority of Valdosta State’s athletic budget comes from student fees. Reinhard said 75 percent of the athletic budget comes from the fees generated from the students, and the other 25 percent comes from sales, marketing, tickets and other revenue streams.

If the university was to double student athletic fees, it would still come up nearly $3.5 million short of its projected Division I annual budget, Reinhard said.     

“Our athletic fee has actually decreased the last three years because there is a big change in demographics in college students right now,” Reinhard said. “More of our students are taking classes online and, right now, we don’t get fees for online classes. So the amount of athletic fee we are receiving has actually gone down.”

Valdosta State, which competes in the Gulf South Conference, would also be required to add four additional sports. The NCAA requires Division I members to have at least 16 competing teams. Currently, 12 intercollegiate athletic programs — six men’s and six women’s — compete at VSU.

A move to Division I doesn’t guarantee athletic or financial gain, either. The majority of lower-level Division I schools rarely compete for national championships.

“People still do not understand the fact that, when they talk about us going to Division I, they are generally talking about us moving to Division I-(Football Championship Subdivision). They still don’t understand 1-(FCS) is only football. Many people don’t understand that many of your sports would be competing for national championships against Georgia, Florida, Florida State and the mega boys.”

In the latest Sagarin Ratings Index, which are released each week and ranks Division I athletic basketball teams, no former Division II schools rank inside the top 100. The closest is South Dakota State, where the men’s basketball team ranks 106 with a 12-6 overall record. Out of the 347 Division I schools that play men’s basketball, 11 former Division II schools rank outside the top 300, including Kennesaw State. The Owls men’s basketball team is just 2-18 this season.

With Valdosta State’s softball team winning its first national championship last May, and likely opening this season as the front-runner to repeat its championship, and its men’s tennis team winning two national championships since 2006, Reinhard and other VSU administration are not ready to give up these successes.

“Folks don’t realize, generally speaking, if we were to make the move, that scenario that we had where we got to host the regional and super regional (for softball) and those people came out and we had those gigantic crowds and the environment, all the fun that surrounded it, it would never happen again,” Reinhard said. “We would never be ranked high enough to be able to host. You never say never, but generally speaking, that would never come to Valdosta.”  

Studies show that the lower-level Division I programs rarely show monetary gain.

In an NCAA report released in 2010, only 14 of the 120 Division I-Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools profited from campus athletics during the 2009 fiscal year.

Of the 97 non-football playing schools at the Division I level, programs reported an annual average fiscal loss of $3 million.

In 2010, no Division I-FCS programs reported a profit, according to a report released by The Chronicle of Higher Education.  

Reinhard and VSU aren’t alone on the issue of staying Division II members, compared to making the leap to Division I. Grand Valley State University, another widely regarded and accomplished Division II institution, has made it clear that it has no intent of moving to the higher classification, despite criticism from its fan base.

“Some of the top DII teams have shown they can compete in I-FCS, but again, that only refers to the sport of football. While a few schools have done reasonably well in the sport of football in their move to I-FCS, their other sports have not achieved much success,” wrote GVSU Athletic Director Tim Selgo, in a blog on the university’s athletic website in 2009.  

Selgo is right. Schools like Troy State University in Alabama, a former member of the Gulf South Conference that has competed on the Division I-FBS level, has garnered much success in football, including bowl victories and conference championships.

But Troy State’s other athletic programs are not succeeding.  

Currently, the Troy men’s basketball team is 9-12, while the women’s team is 3-16 and hasn’t had a winning season since 2008. The Lady Trojans finished 16-14 that season.  

Troy isn’t alone. Other former Gulf South Conference members which have moved on to compete at the Division I level have yet to reach the pinnacle of athletic greatness.

Jacksonville State, which won four of five GSC football championships from 1988-92 and the 1992 Division II national championship, competes at the Division I-FCS level. Since making the leap up, JSU has not won a national championship in any sport.

Florida Atlantic, a private institution located in Boca Raton, Fla., is another former member of the GSC that has moved on to compete at the Division I level. The university has yet to reach a championship event in any sport.

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