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North Alabama Trustees Get Pros And Cons
The Lions, with their historic football program, are thinking of moving up from Division II into possibly the OVC or Southland conference.
Taking the athletic program from NCAA Division II to Division I would be an expensive move for the University of North Alabama, based on a just-completed feasibility study by an independent consulting firm.
In fact, the move would require UNA to almost double its current athletic budget of just over $4 million, based on the findings of NACDA Consulting.
The study concludes the budget would need to be about $7.4 million for the Lions to be competitive in every sport.
NACDA Consulting began working in January on the study. The finished product was presented to the university’s board of trustees Thursday morning during a meeting at the Florence Golf and Country Club.
UNA has been a member of Division II for more than 35 years.
“This is a good first step for us,” UNA Athletic Director Mark Linder said. “There is a lot of information here for us to look at and it will help us make the best decision for UNA. It’s a big step for us in making our athletic department better.”
Johnny Williams, president and chief executive officer of Creative Management and Marketing, worked with NACDA on the proposal. Williams played football and graduated for UNA and later became athletic director at Troy. Under his leadership, Troy, a former on-the-field rival of the Lions, has made a successful transition to the Division I ranks.
Williams said the purpose of the project has never been to make a recommendation about which way the UNA athletic program should go. Instead, he said the study was meant to point out the positives and negatives associated with moving up to Division I or staying in Division II.
“We gave them the pros and the cons as well as the benchmarks of where they would need to be,” Williams said. “We’ll do a follow-up report, but then it’s up to UNA on what to do next. It’s a big decision for UNA.”
The Lions have had success in Division II through the years, most notably with three football and two men’s basketball national championships.
The presentation outlined how UNA compares to other schools in the Gulf South Conference, top Division II programs nationwide and to Division I schools that participate in the Ohio Valley Conference and Southland Conference.
When compared to the top 10 football-playing schools in Division II, UNA’s athletic budget of $4.03 million is 29 percent below the average $5.67 million budget. UNA’s budget ranked second in the Gulf South Conference, behind Delta State.
Williams said UNA would need to raise its athletic budget to at least the Ohio Valley Conference of $7.4 million to be competitive in Division I.
The study said UNA would also need to add to its number of scholarships awarded to athletes. The Lions are below the average scholarship level in its own conference. Considering partial scholarships, UNA offers the equivalent of 96.64 scholarships. Just to get to the other third of the GSC, nearly 20 scholarships need to be added, based on the report.
To reach the average scholarship level of Ohio Valley Conference schools, UNA would have to add 70.38 scholarships.
The study also revealed that two additional sports must be added should UNA opt to move to Division I. The study recommended that both additional sports be women’s programs because there are 23 more male athletes on scholarship than female athletes.
The study states that 14 more coaches would be needed to make the move as well, along with eight athletic department staff members.
Among the recommendations listed as possible means to pay for the increased budget and the additional scholarships and employees are the likely implementation of a $230 annual student fee for athletics. Other revenue-producing proposals included increased ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and game guarantees for scheduling larger schools such as Alabama and Auburn.
The proposal pointed out several UNA strengths that would make a move to Division I easier. Among those strengths are the tradition of the program, the support and size of the community, institutional support, good facilities and membership interest from the Ohio Valley Conference.
Williams also pointed out that a move to Division I would allow UNA to renew rivalries with teams such as Jacksonville State, Troy and Alabama A&M, which would almost certainly increase ticket sales.
“UNA doesn’t really have a big rival now that most of the old GSC teams have gone Division I,” Williams said. “When I played at UNA, the Jacksonville State game was huge. With Samford leaving, the OVC is looking for another team and UNA would be a great fit geographically for the conference.”
Among the negatives of moving to Division I is the potential loss of the Division II National Championship Game, played each year at Braly Stadium since 1986.
Even if UNA decides to move to Division I, it could not be made until August 2011. Last August, the NCAA placed a four-year moratorium on allowing institutions to formally begin the process of joining the division.
Linder said the moratorium was a good thing for UNA.
“Not being able to make a move for three more years is a blessing,” he said. “If the moratorium was not in place, it might lead us to a rash decision. This gives us plenty of time to comb the facts and make a good decision.”
After the presentation, Steve Pierce, president pro tem of the board, said the goal of the trustees is to make UNA athletics the best it can be, regardless of the division of play.
“This is good information for us to look at and decide where we want to be in our athletic program,” Pierce said. “Even if we made a decision tomorrow, it would be at least three years before the opportunity would be available. We’ll look at our program as it is and see if we want to be in Division I or just work to be better in Division II.”
What will it take?
A feasibility study to determine if the University of North Alabama should take its athletic program from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division 1 has been completed. The study by NACDA Consulting outlines several recommendations should the decision be made to make the move, including:
* Increase athletic budget from $4 million to $7.4 million.
* Add two sports (suggests both be women’s sports).
* Add at least 70 scholarships (90 suggested to be competitive).
* Add 22 staff members - eight administrative, 14 coaches.
* Raise needed money to make the move by increasing student fees ($230 per year suggested), increasing corporate sponsorships, fundraising and ticket sales.
Trustees get pros and cons
By Jeff McIntyre, NW Alabama Times Daily