UNA seeks invitation from Division I conference

Talk of advancing to Division I has resounded across campus since 2011, and although stumbling blocks seem to find their way between UNA and a new conference, campus officials say they are optimistic.

Athletic Director Mark Linder said the Ohio Valley Conference UNA hoped to join recently confirmed it is not accepting new members.

“We thought we would be a great fit for the OVC, but they are not looking to expand,” Linder said. “They will more than likely go after a current Division I team instead of trying to help a Division II team.”

The NCAA in 2007 ceased accepting new schools into Division I because it had become overcrowded, he said.

The cease ended in 2011, and a set of new standards and rules emerged, including a requirement that a conference-issued invitation is needed to advance divisions.

Conversations with other conferences have intensified since earlier this spring, he said.

“We are working with some conferences to secure an invitation,” he said. “We just have to get our foot in the door.”

An application fee of about $1.4 million is required to advance to Division I.

Linder said the fee has risen from around $15,000 since 2007.

Talk of the cost of the transition has inspired tuition concerns around campus, and Interim University President John Thornell is eager to put any monetary fears to rest.

“Students are going to assume they are going to be asked to pay additional tuition fees,” Thornell said. “Trustees stipulated the percentage could not go over a certain threshold in order to support the move to Division I.”

Sophomore Jerome Williams said he was glad to hear the transition will not affect tuition.

“I had feared a tuition raise since hearing about it,” Williams said. “The only reason tuition should be raised in this case would be for a new stadium on campus.”

Linder said money has nothing to do with UNA’s wait to transition.

“We have gone through the fundraising process, and the application fee is secure,” he said. “It’s like prom. Everything is bought, you are all dressed up, the limo is rented, but you are waiting for the invite.” He said the university is not required to replace any existing athletic facilities to make the transition.

“All of our facilities would meet minimum requirements,” he said. “There might be a suggestion from a league for improving a certain facility, but that conversation would happen during courtship.”

Officials said they anticipate a 13 to 18 month transitional process after an invite is secured.

Junior Rabun Wright said the only downside of the transition is how long the process will take.

Many current students will not be enrolled at UNA when it takes place, she said.

“We can use this as an opportunity for the entire campus to embrace a Division I mentality,” Thornell said. “If athletics is willing to try to compete at a higher level, academics can be inspired to step up as well.”

Thornell recognized some departments on campus may not welcome the transition to Division I.

“People sometimes compartmentalize the campus when we really need everyone to stand together and realize what an important role we all serve.”

All sports would move to Division I along with the football program, Linder said.

“I believe UNA is at a great point for this move,” he said. “It can be used as a catalyst for growth. Anything we can do to increase enrollment is a good thing for our university.”

He said the national branding that accompanies Division I would benefit the entire university and increase recruitment options.

Thornell echoed Linder’s observations.

“It is a notion of how the campus thinks about change,” he said. “Some schools that have gone Division I in recent years have seen campus enthusiasm go up, and the community get more involved. The movement creates opportunities for us.”

Linder said the move to Division I can improve campus life and help raise UNA to its full potential.

“It is who we are, and we need to tell our story,” Linder said. “We have dreamed of improving and growing, and this is a great chance to do that.”