Pierce: ‘We need to be the leader, not the follower’ with D-I

Billy Don Anderson, Harvey Robbins, Libby Watts-Jordan, Rodney Howard and Bill Cale discuss Division I at the board of trustees meeting in June.

UNA President Dr. Bill Cale said it is important to keep a balanced point of view and to remember the university is embarrassed, but not harmed, after being rejected by the Ohio Valley Conference Nov. 16.

He said he was disappointed and surprised to learn UNA would not receive a conference invitation because he thought the university had satisfactorily addressed all questions and concerns the OVC had in previous months.

Since the rejection, Cale plans to dig deeper into why UNA did not receive an invitation from the OVC as the university continues to pursue the transition to Division I athletics.

“I plan to reach out to as many presidents as I can,” he said at an athletics subcommittee meeting for the board of trustees Nov. 22. “I plan to start with talking to the commissioners face to face and gather as much information as I can. I want to look into the issues that drove their decision.”

Josh Woods, university spokesman, said UNA will continue to work on all facets of the move, despite rejection from the OVC.

“(Director of Athletics) Mark (Linder) is still going to be advancing the athletics program to those same D-I standards,” Woods said. “We have to be D-I ready when a conference invite comes along, whether it’s from the OVC or any other conference.”

Vice President for University Advancement Alan Medders said the university has to continue to raise funds and move forward with the transition. So far, the university gained $233,000 in pledges and secured $183,000 in cash toward the $500,000 annual goal and $1.408 million toward the overall $3 million goal.

According to Medders, the university is on track for success and to meet the benchmarks set forth by the UNA board of trustees’ resolution, which was passed in June of this year.

“The goal hasn’t changed … the resolution by the board said nothing about which conference we have to join,” Medders said. “It is just saying that UNA needs to move forward with a plan to transition to Division I athletics.”

Trustee Ronnie Flippo said he was shocked to learn the OVC rejected UNA from entering its conference. He believes UNA should take immediate action in consulting with the OVC to learn the reasons behind the rejection.

“For two years, they have said they wanted us in their conference,” he said. “We’ve been proceeding along those lines, and then they pulled the rug out from under us when they knew how important that decision was to us.”

Trustee Libby Watts-Jordan told the athletics subcommittee she was not pleased with the university’s response to the OVC decision, and that the board, university administration and community should be more respectful of the OVC’s decision. She said questioning their decision is not the proper thing for the university to do at this time.

UNA missed its chance to transition to Division I when all of its rivals, such as Jacksonville State and other institutions comparable to UNA’s size made the move, Watts-Jordan said.

“This is where we should have been last year,” Watts-Jordan said. “Next year is going to be the bad year … as far as the games we play go.”

Rodney Howard, a member of the board of trustees, said one thing the university has succeeded in during previous months is keeping students, faculty, staff and community members better informed about the Division I transition.

“We’ve corrected those weaknesses we have had,” he said. “Do the students feel today the same way they did six months, a year ago? I would dare say no. They have been given the information they should have been given a long time ago.”

Steve Pierce, president pro tem of the board of trustees, said UNA needs to continue working to meet its designated benchmarks in order to successfully transition to Division I.

“We need to stay in touch with the OVC, get our affairs in order and continue forward with whatever conferences are there,” he said. “We need to be the leader, not the follower. We need to get everything in order and meet on a regular basis. We are well on the way to Division I. This is a speed bump, so let’s get past this and move on.”