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University West Florida Aims to Boost Athletics
Group to envision options for moving up to Division I.
Rumors about the potential for NCAA Division I sports and the possibility of football at the University of West Florida have swirled for months.
Now the school has made its first substantive move in that direction, unveiling the UWF Athletics Visioning Team 2009 on Monday.
The 25-person fact-finding committee will examine the state of athletics and could determine whether the school is fit to add sports or move up from NCAA Division II to Division I. A move to Division I would put UWF among the high-profile universities on the top level of intercollegiate athletics.
UWF is the only public university in Florida that is not a member of NCAA Division I. Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers was the last to make the jump.
“I am excited about the kickoff of the Athletics Visioning Committee,” UWF Interim President Judy Bense said. “I think it is the right thing to do at the right time. UWF athletics has come a long, long way since the last study 10 years ago, and I am very glad to be the UWF president that facilitates a long, hard look into the possibilities of the future.”
Bense, who has been a strong proponent of improving student life and the athletic program since taking over the position last year, was charged with appointing the committee members.
“I want (the committee) to understand that they are to develop action plans by May,” Bense said. “The results of their hard work will not be put on the shelf to gather dust.”
The university has outlined particular issues to be addressed during the next five months:
≺ NCAA divisional alignment.
≺ Conference affiliation.
≺ Sports program review.
≺ Facilities review.
≺ Compliance with NCAA, Florida, Title IX, Florida Board of Governors or institutional requirements.
“I think its important that we have a president who’s placing a focus and an interest in athletics,” said interim athletic director Dave Scott. “Who knows what the end result will be, but it’s good to have an interest and a focus out there.”
UWF currently has 13 sports — six men’s, seven women’s.
The NCAA has a moratorium on schools moving up to Division I until August 2011. That move up would be popular among many UWF coaches administration and alumni because of increased exposure, the potential for higher salaries, a better product to sell to recruits and improved facilities would follow.
UWF moved from NAIA to Division II in 1994 under former athletic director Richard Berg — who will serve as a member of the current Athletics Visioning Team.
The committee is expected to be broken in half with each co-chair — Joe Ambersley and Randy Sansom — overseeing one half. From there, more subcommittees will be created.
Aside from the co-chairs, the visioning team is made up of 14 UWF representatives and nine community representatives.
“I hope we can finalize a plan or get something rolling to activate the community in support of UWF athletics,” said team member Ray Palmer, executive director of the Pensacola Sports Association. “Their success in sports is phenomenal right now, and you can’t even go to a local sporting goods store and buy a UWF T-shirt.
“No matter which direction we go, I want to see the program exposed. We’ve got to have something that gets people to appreciate what we have. Most communities would die to have a program like this.”
Football is the top priority among the student body says April Jardine, president of the UWF Student Government Association.
“(The Commitee) is a step in the right direction as far as Dr. Bense’s plan to amp up athletics,” Jardine said. “A lot of students are excited about the idea of football. We (as students) just want somewhere to go, be together and cheer on a football team that we have.
“I just think in the long run, either way, I think we’re going to make the best decision for the university. If it ends up being football, that could be amazing.”
UWF aims to boost athletics
by D.C. Reeves, The Pensacola News-Journal (FL)