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UIW's football goal: Division I
Plans would move the program from Division II status within three years.
The University of the Incarnate Word is actively considering plans that could lead to Division I athletic status within three years.
UIW President Lou Agnese said Friday the Cardinals are considering joining the Southland Conference after less than two years in the Division II Lone Star Conference.
UIW’s interest in Division I is a calculated move by Agnese to “extend the brand” of his school, which has mushroomed in enrollment during his tenure as leader.
With a current fall enrollment of 8,445 students, UIW is the fourth-largest private school in Texas behind Baylor, SMU and TCU. When Agnese arrived at UIW in 1985, the school had an enrollment of 1,298.
“We’re building the ‘Cardinal Brand,’” Agnese said. “We’ve been on a 25-year trajectory to build it. And the next step for us, if the students agree, is to make the move to Division I.”
UIW student athletes greeted Agnese’s plans with great interest when he met with them earlier this year, he said.
UIW students will vote on Agnese’s plan in November. If approved, student activity fees would increase from their current $350 per year.
The school then would petition the Southland Conference to join in January with hopes of becoming a member by the start of the 2014-15 school year.
Agnese said the school also has considered applying to Conference USA. But the likely target is the Southland Conference, which has lost UTSA, Texas State and UT-Arlington to the Western Athletic Conference since 2010.
Despite UIW’s interest, Southland commissioner Tom Burnett said his conference typically would target an existing Division I member rather than accept a school from Division II.
“It’s a significant step,” Burnett said. “Look across town and you saw that UTSA jumped into the deep end immediately with football and got a lot of momentum. I know UIW is new to football and they are in the Lone Star Conference. They are already in the deep end.
“But talk about going from 36 to 63 scholarships is a pretty big step. And in every way imaginable, it’s a considerable expense.”
The NCAA would require a prospective new Division I member to have a conference membership before they are allowed to jump. UIW also would be subject to a $1.3 million initiation payment to the NCAA and be in compliance with Academic Progress Rate (APR) regulations.
The last Division II team to jump to the Southland was Central Arkansas.
“Our primary focus is on current Division I members, but any time you have an institution with 8,500 students and they desire to play football, it’s probably hard to ignore them,” Burnett said about UIW. “If they have an ambition to play football in FCS, as we’ve seen over history, those types of institutions tend to find their way into the Southland Conference.”
The biggest costs in moving to Division I would be moving from 28 scholarships this season in Division II to 63 for membership among FCS schools.
The Cardinals will face their first Division I football opponent in school history tonight at Lamar.
Agnese said the school has contacted the San Antonio Independent School District about playing some football games at Alamo Stadium and basketball at Alamo Convocation Center. UIW also is mulling plans to boost capacity at Benson Stadium to more than 11,000.
Incarnate Word averaged 3,089 for six home football games in 2010. Southland teams averaged 9,083 per game during the same period.
SAISD board member Ed Garza said “certainly we’d be interested” in having UIW at as a tenant at either of the school’s athletic facilities.
“I would stress first and foremost that the athletics teams in the SAISD would remain the priority, and we’d have to work around the schedules of our teams,” Garza said.
Nevertheless, he said the district is excited about the school’s plans and wants to be a “good neighbor” to the university.
Garza said he ran into Agnese at lunch a week ago, and said the two talked informally about the idea.
“I had to do a double-take when he mentioned Division I,” Garza said.
If UIW completes the plan, it would join UTSA as the second Division I program in the city.
Garza, a former San Antonio mayor, said he thinks the city could support both programs.
“I think the city can support more than two,” Garza said. “I think we’re a big enough city and (San Antonio) is only going to continue to grow. With continued population growth, (college sports teams) would attract not only from the alumni base from both schools, but also from the broader San Antonio community.”
Agnese left little doubt he would relish a chance to see his school play UTSA — the sooner the better.
“Oct. 22 is open on their schedule and our schedule,” Agnese said. “There’s no reason we couldn’t play (this year.)
“They have a facility. We’ll play them here, we’ll play them there, we’ll play them anywhere. We’ll play them in the middle of Broadway.”
By Tim Griffin and Jerry Briggs, San Antonio Express-News