Trustees debate D-I transition approach

Board of trustees members Steve Pierce and Rodney Howard have a conversation during the Sept. 15, 2011 board meeting. 

The topic of Division I athletics at UNA was discussed by many officials in attendance at the board of trustees retreat May 9. The university decided to move toward D-I in June of last year, but some officials are saying that the university shouldn’t be moving so quickly.

Trustee Libby Jordan questioned in the meeting whether or not the resolution the board approved last year in June still stood because the university had not reached all of the benchmarks. She questioned that because the university had not yet received an invitation from a D-I conference.

“I think we should count our lucky stars the (Ohio Valley Conference) turned us down,” Jordan said. “ I am terrified that we are going to jump out there, and then—three years down the road—we aren’t going to have anything.”

Jordan said this is not the right time for the university to move into a different division because the economy is bad and the university is seeing a loss in funding across the board. She said she does not want the university to move up if it is not going to be successful.

“When we did this resolution last June in this same room, we went through all the benchmarks, and we had a year to complete all the benchmarks, and if we did not, we would in fact stay Division II,” Jordan said.

President Pro Tem Steve Pierce said the opposite.

“Everything under our control is moved along and done,” Pierce said. “It’s basically the invitation from the conference is what is not done.”

Pierce said that—as far as he knew—the board’s resolution still stood and that the university was in good standing to move into a conference whenever the invitation came.

“I think that this board of trustees and president want to make this happen, and I think we will make it happen,” Pierce said. “I think that we should continue to pursue it, and if we get that invitation at that point, we can either accept it or reject it.”

Jordan said part of the problem the university faced when the OVC toured the campus was that UNA wanted too much for game guarantees.

“What Libby said about the game guarantees was said to me not by the commissioners, but by a number of the presidents in the conference,” said UNA President Bill Cale.

Pierce said he did not hear anything about game guarantees from the OVC.

“I did not hear anything about the OVC saying that our game guarantees were too high,” Pierce said. “Speaking with the commissioner and speaking with the president of Jacksonville state, I never picked up on that whatsoever … first of all, we were one vote short.”

Trustee Joel Anderson said for him, the big question is the money aspect.

Cale told the trustees that leaving the Gulf South Conference would cost the university money soon, because the conference is planning to enforce a new rule for schools exiting the conference.

“There are some folks who are proponents of the move,” Anderson said. “I don’t know that I know of anyone that is in opposition of it; the only criticism that I have heard is the timing of it.”

Anderson said the board should wait for a better time.

“Why don’t we just sit back, settle in, put some plans in place and get the tuition pressure off of our students—let the state recover and take our time and make sure we do it right with a better budget and financial picture,” Anderson said.

The board of trustees will meet again in June. Stay with The Flor-Ala for continued coverage of the university’s transition to D-I.