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Since UNA is going D-I, do it right
For better or worse, good or bad, today is the dawning of a new athletic era at the University of North Alabama.
Even though the vote was far from unanimous and remains a divisive issue on campus, the board of trustees decided that now’s the proper time to forge ahead with its vision of Division I grandeur.
With the vote finalized and somewhat of a plan in place, university officials will be hitting the bricks and asking for money to make it work. If certain benchmarks are met, including securing a Division I conference invitation and acquiring a minimum of $3 million, the Lions will start the process of taking their appointed, albeit late-to-the-party, place among the Alabamas, Auburns and Michigans of the athletic world.
Throughout the nine-month process of figuring out the proper athletic fit, an overriding theme among those in favor of moving to Division I has been the desire to align UNA with a different class of universities. The same people also said the move was not solely based on athletics.
Monday’s 6-3 vote was a collective thumbing of the board’s nose at Valdosta State, West Georgia, West Alabama, West Florida and Delta State, schools that have been at the core of UNA’s athletic existence for decades.
Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Status quo isn’t for everybody, and it’s obvious UNA has tired of playing in the ever-changing Gulf South Conference.
As the process moves along, here’s a few suggestions that should be considered to ensure this move is successful.
n The six board members who voted in favor of the move should be the first to pony up toward the $3 million benchmark the school is requiring to make the move. About $250,000 each would secure half of the necessary funding. It’s called putting your money where your mouth is.
n Unveil plans for a new multi-purpose athletic/basketball facility that will be ready the first day the Lions become active Division I members. Let’s face it, Flowers Hall was great in 1974. Now, not so much. You can’t expect Bobby Champagne and Terry Fowler to compete against penthouse programs from the basement.
n Start renovating Braly Stadium immediately. For whatever reason, UNA likes to compare itself to Jacksonville State and Troy. Both of the stadiums at those schools put Braly Stadium to shame. Again, have it ready in time so that when the Lions become eligible for the FCS championship they aren’t playing second fiddle to the Gamecocks.
n Fully fund every sport from the get-go instead of gradually phasing in scholarships. Football will need 21 additional scholarships to ensure that it will be able to secure those big-money guarantee games. Don’t leave basketball, volleyball, baseball and the rest of the sports behind. Get staff in place, get the athletes in place now rather than later.
n Give coaches raises and long-term contract security. If UNA is blessed with anything right now, it’s the quality of coaches across the board. Transition years can be brutal, especially in men’s basketball, and won-loss records can suffer. To base their worth on the number of wins and losses will be short-sighted.
UNA has proved it could be relevant nationally in Division II athletics. The stakes are significantly higher going forward with this commitment to Division I. For this move to Division I to work and the board’s legacy to be considered visionary, it’s paramount coaches and athletes be given every possible advantage to succeed, regardless of the cost.
There are plenty of schools on the Division I landscape that are irrelevant. It’s up to university officials to make sure UNA doesn’t become one of them.