UNA officials, trustees hopeful about future of D-I despite OVC rejection

Trustee Rodney Howard, President Pro Tem Steve Pierce and UNA President Dr. Bill Cale discuss issues relating to Division I athletics at the board of trustees meeting Dec. 12.

Trustee Libby Watts-Jordan told the board of trustees Monday she thinks the Ohio Valley Conference decision in November to reject UNA is an opportunity for the university to become a stronger D-I school before fully making the move in athletics.

“I feel like when we jumped into the D-I vote, we did not have the foresight to bring a good set of oars with us, much less a paddle,” said Watts-Jordan, who voted no to D-I June 13. “This (rejection) gives us the opportunity to do that, gives us the chance to slowly and meticulously raise money, get the application fee, get extra money to our sports and increase funding in athletics at the D-2 level. This gives us the opportunity to establish a solid background so when other conferences come to us with an invitation, we will be ready.”

Since the rejection, UNA President Bill Cale said he has had three different conversations with OVC Commissioner Beth DeBauche, as well as spoken to 5-6 OVC presidents who considered whether to add UNA and the University of Northern Kentucky to their conference.

He said officials are still eager to discuss a possible invitation with UNA in the future.

“What I gleaned from our conversations is that despite what was said, they still want to continue with dialogue and that we need to make sure our financial house is in order when we transition to Division I and to make sure we are appropriately competitive,” Cale said. “Then I talked with presidents around the OVC to get their point of view, including the ones who didn’t support us, and they suggested keeping the dialogue open.”

Vice President for University Advancement Alan Medders said the university has to continue to raise funds and move forward with the transition even without an invitation from the OVC. Despite the recent rejection, donors continue to pledge toward the D-I move. Cash pledges have increased from $233,000 to $1.5 million since early December, according to Medders.

“These guys, ever since the the OVC’s decision not to expand at this time, have not slowed down their efforts,” said Steve Pierce, president pro tem of the board of trustees. “The (rejection) has just challenged them to work that much harder because the financial aspects and fundraisers have continued to move at a rapid pace.”

Since the OVC rejected UNA, Director of Athletics Mark Linder and other officials are now looking at the Southland Conference, Southern Conference and the Atlantic Sun, even though those leagues give UNA a geographic disadvantage.

“This university is a D-I caliber university,” he said. “We just need to make sure that athletically we are D-I ready.”