UNA exploring move to Division I

FLORENCE, Ala. — North Alabama is exploring a move to Division I with a looming exodus from the Gulf South Conference threatening to leave the small college power stranded in a shrinking league.

The board of trustees agreed Monday at its annual retreat to have President William Cale and other school officials compile a plan detailing the feasibility of a move up from Division II. Trustees want the plan finished by the Sept. 10 board meeting, when they could decide to stay put or proceed with the next step toward the higher division.

Six Gulf South members from Arkansas and three Oklahoma schools from another league have said they will petition the NCAA to form a new Division II conference.

Steve Pierce, the UNA board’s president pro tem, said trustees want to get an idea of how much the move will cost, gauge community support and outline the benchmarks the school would have to meet.

Pierce said it could be “a defining moment for our university.”

“I feel that for the future of the university as a whole, we need to look at the possibility of moving to another level,” he said.

UNA athletic director Mark Linder said it would cost between $900,000 and $1.3 million for the three-time Division II football national champions to apply for the move.

“I don’t know where the money will come from,” he told The TimesDaily of Florence in a story Wednesday.

Hiking the $12-a-semester athletic fees for students could bring in part of the money.

A study commissioned by North Alabama in May 2008 showed the school’s athletic budget is about $3 million less than the average program in the Ohio Valley Conference, which includes Jacksonville State.

North Alabama would have to add at least two sports and about 70 athletic scholarships to reach the OVC average.

The study by NACDA Consulting forecast a cost of $867,000 to add eight administrators and 14 coaches to the athletic department staff.

Trustee Billy Don Anderson pointed to former GSC member Troy, which now plays in the Division I Sun Belt Conference, as a success story.

“We always hold Troy up because Troy planned well; Troy was successful,” Anderson said. “Troy had the support of every single person within a 100-mile radius of Troy, Alabama.”

North Alabama board member Libby Watts said she doesn’t oppose a move up but that the board first needs to take a “long, hard look at the fiscal numbers.”

“What exactly is it going to cost this university?” she asked. “It’s not a one-time thing. We don’t need to leave academics behind in an excitement to move up.”

The Associated Press

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