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U. of N. Ala. trustees vote to move to NCAA Div. I
The University of North Alabama board of trustees has voted to move up to Division I in athletics after a six-team defection from the Gulf South Conference left Division II competition in the area scarce.
The trustees voted 6-3 Monday in favor of the move that is projected to nearly double the annual $4 million cost of running the athletic program to $7.5 million. The school plans to raise student athletic fees and attract more money from private donations and corporate sponsorships to help pay for it.
“This is an exciting time in the history of UNA — a time of growth and momentum, for academics, for student life and for athletics,” university President Dr. William G. Cale Jr. said in a statement. “As we move forward with the board’s decision today, I am excited about our future. We have a plan to move ahead strategically and to build upon our very successful athletics program.
“University concerns were heard from our faculty, staff, and students, and the resolution that was passed today includes benchmarks to address those concerns.”
About a third of the extra funding, or $1.318 million, is expected to be generated by a phased-in increase in the student athletic fee. It will be raised to $2 per credit hour starting with the 2011-12 academic year, from $12 per semester.
Additional revenue would come from corporate sponsorships, ticket sales, guaranteed payout games in football and basketball, NCAA and conference distributions and donations from the UNA Sportsman’s Club. North Alabama will have to pay a $1.42 million application fee to the NCAA.
North Alabama, which is led by former Auburn coach Terry Bowden, won three straight Division II football national championships in the 1990s and has made the playoffs for six straight years. It is seeking to move up to the Football Championship Subdivision.
Former Division II powers such as Troy (Football Bowl Subdivision) and Jacksonville State (FCS) previously made the move in the state. Six members from Arkansas are leaving the GSC, prompting North Alabama to explore other options.
Athletic Director Mark Linder said that leaves only five Division II schools within a 3½-hour radius, compared to 21 Division I schools.
The proposal cited the Sun Belt and Ohio Valley conferences as possible destinations, but indicated the OVC — which also includes Jacksonville State — would likely be the best fit in location and cost.
Board members Harvey Robbins, John Cole and Libby Jordan voted against the move.
Jordan said she was “not comfortable with the funding strategies” presented to the board.
“I don’t believe UNA can afford to move to Division I at this time,” Jordan told the TimesDaily of Florence before the vote. “We have lost $10 million over the past three years in state appropriations.”
North Alabama lost $8.8 million in state funding from Oct. 1, 2008 to Sept. 30, 2009, according to the plan presented to the board.
Representatives of the student, faculty and staff senates have also voiced opposition to the move. The university said it would cap institutional funding for the athletics program to preserve academic money and will phase in a student athletics fee throughout the six-year transition period.
“This decision was not made for its immediate impact,” UNA president pro tempore Steve Pierce said. “The full benefits of actions like these are rarely seen for many years. This move, I am confident, will bring to this university and this area a level of strength, of competition and of growth that will be felt generations from now, long after each of us is gone.”