No restrictions, no excuses for Division I Norse


Matt Sexton

Macy Hamblin was named Horizon League player of the year in 2015 and returns for her junior year at NKU this fall.

In a moment four years in the making, Northern Kentucky University is now a full member of NCAA Division I athletics. Press releases from the NCAA and NKU confirmed the expected this week.

The Norse have served what is, quite frankly, an absurd and unnecessarily severe penance for daring to move up from Division II to Division I. 

A four-year transition to Division I? Was the NCAA worried NKU would come in and run roughshod over athletic departments spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year?

Nevertheless, the shackles have been removed by the NCAA. NKU is eligible for the NCAA tournament. There are no more restrictions.

There are also no more excuses.

If the move to Division I is going to make sense for NKU, its programs have to win. Some of them have already. The women’s basketball team nearly upset Green Bay in the Horizon League semifinals last season.

While you never heard one of NKU’s coaches publicly whining about their situation, there was no question they have operated at a competitive disadvantage over the last four years.

Athletes who graduated in the spring, in many cases, were recruited to compete at the Division II level. Athletes recruited since had just the promise of conference titles.

Until last year, those conference titles would have to be won by spending countless hours on the road in buses and on planes traveling to a conference that was never a good fit for NKU.

That changed last year when the Norse joined the Horizon League, a league with a rich tradition, strong competition and close proximity.

With NKU’s admission into Division I, the final disadvantage is gone. It’s time to go out and win.

By all accounts both inside and outside the university, NKU has an incredibly strong group of coaches. As far as facilities go, NKU would certainly put BB&T Arena and NKU Soccer Stadium along with its renovated rec center up against anybody else in the Horizon League.

Much has been made of NKU’s attendance issues. While part of those issues involve finding ways to get students out to games, the university would also like to see more people in the local community to rally behind the Norse.

To do that, NKU must win. They must win Horizon League titles and compete in the NCAA tournament. While they will compete with the Horizon League and similar leagues for recruits, they compete against Cincinnati, Xavier, Kentucky and Louisville for eyeballs and dollars.

John Brannen is not just the men’s basketball coach. He is someone who grew up in Northern Kentucky. He’s mentioned taking on the blue-collar attitude of the region. It’s clear the mission to take NKU to the NCAA tournament is very personal.

“Growing up as a young man in the Northern Kentucky region and watching a Division II program that was really successful in both academics and athletics, I take a lot of pride in seeing the growth into a Division I program,” Brannen said. “Everyone wants to compete for championships. It provides a tremendous challenge and great goal for our men’s basketball program.”

It’s also personal for Liz Hart, NKU volleyball coach, who now coaches her alma mater.

“There’s so many resources that we’re able to provide our athletes now,” Hart said. “It’s so neat that not only are we able to help them develop on the court and improve as players in their sport, but we can help them grow as individuals and become well-rounded. And, we’re able to do that within the athletic department.”

There is nothing holding NKU athletics back. No restrictions, no excuses. It’s time to win and win big.