The sight of Gov. Ernie Fletcher holding his newly acquired Northern Kentucky University basketball jersey March 15 gave students and faculty at NKU a chance to breathe a sigh of relief.
With the passing of the state budget and a promise of a new $60 million special events center comes a familiar question to the NKU community. Should NKU pursue a move to the NCAA Division I rankings?
This isn’t the first time this proposal has been on the table. For years this issue has been tossed around, always finding itself on the back burner of current affairs.
NKU’s Athletic Director Jane Meier said that the first step to Division I is the need for a new and bigger arena.
“I have told President Votruba that the regional special events center is the last piece in the puzzle in making us a real community,” Meier said.
Now that the new events center seems imminent, the university has to reconsider the possibility of a move.
“I’ve heard that this decision has already been made and we are already going through the motions. This decision has not been made,” said NKU President James Votruba at his Presidential Address March 23 at Regents Hall.
Steps are being taken in that direction.
NKU has hired an independent company, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to conduct a study on whether or not the move to Division I would be beneficial. The international accounting and consulting firm is taking input from the Student Government Association and other campus groups. They will then put their findings together and publish the report.
SGA President Andy Hixson said that so far SGA is not too involved in the process, but as the decision time comes nearer, SGA will become more involved.
Some other legal and financial issues need to be considered before making the decision. A move to Division I would require NKU to spend a lot more money than it currently spends. Coaches’ salaries, and the addition of extra coaches needed to run a Division I program are just part of the problems associated with the move.
With the increased level of competition, NKU’s recruiting would have to be upgraded from the regional to the national level, adding even more cost to the project.
In order to alleviate some of the costs associated with a making a jump to the higher competition level, NKU would almost certainly have to join an athletic conference. In the Midwest there are only a couple of conferences in NKU’s market, but Meier said that the decision to join a conference isn’t up to NKU. “It’s what they want, not what we want. The conference is going to have to accept us,” Meier said.
Right now NKU isn’t legally allowed to make the move. According to NCAA by-laws the NCAA requires a school to have at least 14 varsity sports before considering the university’s application.
NKU currently has six men’s sports and seven women’s sports.
The NCAA said the school could add another men’s or women’s sport to meet the necessary requirements.
Even if NKU is able to add the necessary sports and come up with the extra funds, many athletes and athletic administrators aren’t positive that the move is a good one for the school.
“I think you lose opportunities to compete at the national level for national championships,” said Meier. “We would have a much smaller budget than most of the bigger Division I schools. Ohio State has a budget close to $90 million, where we would have one of only $6 million. There are a lot of Ohio States out there to compete with.”
“I’m on the bubble of whether it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond, or to make the move that won’t guarantee success,” said Paul Cluxton, a former basketball player at NKU, and also a member of the university’s Hall of Fame.
“It will bring more money and more fan involvement,” said Sean Rowland, NKU senior basketball player. “On the other hand you have to compete with all the other Division I programs in the area, like UC and Xavier.”
Others feel as that the move would bring nothing but good things to the school.
“I think it’ll be a positive experience,” said former soccer player, J.T. Roberts, at NKU’s Hall of Fame dinner. “It will draw a lot of national attention to the area, not only athletic, but also academically as well.”
“A move to Division I would give our athletes a neat experience,” said Meier. “It would give them a better opportunity to travel around the country and play against the best competition.”