University officials anticipate transition effects

UNA is expected to bring positive changes to campus as well as the Shoals area through enrollment and athletic conference opportunities starting in 2018 when the Lions will begin playing in a Division I conference.

UNA will make the move from the Division II Gulf South Conference to the Division I Atlantic Sun Conference starting Fall 2018.

The road to Division 1 has been 25 years in the making. Documents discussing the topic date back to 2002, but the transition has been a topic of conversation for much longer, said UNA Athletics Director Mark Linder.

“In 2011, the Board of Trustees at UNA voted to pursue the Division 1 classification,” Linder said.

Research has shown, on average, reclassifying to Division 1 increases enrollment from 11 to 13 percent, Linder said.

Associate Vice president of Enrollment Management Ron Patterson said the university does not know for sure how much of an impact the change in classification will have on enrollment.

“We anticipate a positive change, but we are not sure,” Patterson said.

Linder said the move should help the area bring in more income.

“If the university’s enrollment increases around 800 students, then the economic impact on the Shoals would be around $30 million,” Linder said.

It is currently unclear if the transition to Division I will increase student tuition. Linder said the Board of Trustees vote on all changes regarding tuition.

Ticket sales, corporate scholarships and additional fundraising efforts are expected to bring external revenue to UNA. Additional costs to the university will be added staff, operations, and extra scholarships, Linder said.

UNA will continue to improve all facilities, just as it did in Division II. UNA football will continue to play at Braly Stadium because a new stadium is not necessary for the move to Division I, Linder said.

The athletic department will need to add one more academic advisor to their staff.

Student Government Association President Sarah Green said she hopes going Division 1 will allow UNA to increase funding for educational programs with grants, financially impact the Shoals community and allow more potential students to join the UNA family.

Many students are excited to see the type of impact the Division 1 transition will have on them, Green said.

“I think that the Division 1 transition is going to be a really good thing for our students because it is going to increase our experience at UNA,” Green said. “I am really excited about this transition. I can’t wait to see the impact that it has on UNA.”

Linder said being a Division 1 institution will give athletics access to bigger game guarantees. UNA will also have access to NCAA enhancement money and conference grant money.

“I believe it will be transformational for our university,” Linder said. “(I hope to be) competing for conference championships and representing the university well on the national level in NCAA tournaments.”

Sophomore tennis player Ali Gean said she is excited about what going Division 1 will mean for her as an athlete.

“I think (going Division 1) was a great decision,” Gean said. “I can’t wait to (play) in a Division 1 conference.”

Sophomore Brittany Cagle says she believes Division 1 will expose athletes to new competition as well as continue to increase enrollment at UNA.

“Division 1 will benefit us in tremendous ways,” Cagle said. “I believe it is all positives for our campus.”

UNA will continue working to meet NCAA compliance, which ensures a level playing field between all schools. Topics range from scholarship limits, academic requirements and recruitment, Linder said.

Editor’s Note: Look for a future article about enrollment effects.