Unanswered questions about Division I
I'm very impressed with the task force's detailed compilation of financial information, and with the stakeholder survey that the members undertook. But there are social aspects as well to a Division I move; and unless I missed the references (which is quite possible; let me know if I did, task-force members), the study didn't look at the social aspects very thoroughly.
Take the matter of scandals. As I've mentioned before in Herald editorials, President Kupchella has said that when it comes to athletics, he feels as if he's died and gone to college-president heaven. In other words, in the past it has been hard for Kupchella to imagine how the situation with athletics on campus could be improved ... a feeling that makes me suspect he'll reject his athletic-director's "Go DI" recommendation, and will choose instead to delay a decision or stay DII.
But that's another blog entry. For today's purposes, it's safe to say Kupchella believes athletics at UND already operates very, very well. Why would he think this? For three reasons, I believe -- two of which would be put at risk by a move to DI.
The first reason is that UND already plays in a championship level DI sport, namely hockey. This brings the university a great deal of national recognition, although DI boosters say that attention would grow if the university were to play all sports (except D-IAA football) at the new level.
The second reason for Kupchella's contentment is that the current program operates basically scandal free. For whatever reason, DI hockey doesn't generate many academic or sex scandals of the sort that the University of Minnesota, University of Colorado (where a state Board of Regents probe "concluded that drugs, alcohol and sex were used to entice blue chip recruits to the Boulder campus," The Associated Press reported) and so many other universities have endured.
And DII sports in general seem to lack the killing pressures that can push coaches, alumni, players and others to cut corners and misbehave.
These scandals have cost a great many DI coaches and AD's their jobs, dominated sports headlines for years, resulted in formal Knight Foundation and other investigations -- and proven impervious to change.
Basically, "there are great problems in intercollegiate athletics in America, and while these span all the divisions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, most scandals seem to be associated with Division I." Who wrote that, you might ask? Well, that would be one UND President Charles E. Kupchella, in 2002.
UND's NCAA Classification Task Force study would have gained credibility if it had addressed Kupchella's statement of fact.
The third reason for Kupchella to favor the status quo -- by the way, be sure to read his 2002 letter on this subject, which is linked to above; it's an eye-opener, and reinforces my guess that he'll keep things the way they are -- is that UND teams across all sports win and win handsomely at their current level.
Again, this situation very likely would turn for the worse if the school shifted upward to D-I, at least for sports other than football (which could compete well at D-IAA). Would swimming, basketball and other athletes and fans be disappointed to see their teams compile consistently sub-par records?
I wish the task force also had openly addressed this question.
One fact that the task force did uncover was the notably lukewarm sentiment among UND stakeholders for the move. Given that sentiment; given Kupchella's own skepticism; given the real costs of the move vs. the more speculative benefits, I don't think the evidence yet favors the change.
One final point. I believe the task force owes its existence to this clause in UND's Strategic Plan:
Priority A, Goal 5, Action Strategy 1: "Continue to consider optimal NCAA classification positioning for UND through the establishment of a task group to explore (a) strategies for influencing the improvement of the NCAA classification system, e.g., extending the opportunity for schools to split Division I and Division II levels of different sports as is now done in hockey, and (b) explore rationale, stakeholder interest, opportunity, and financial means to move all UND athletic programs to the Division I level as currently organized."
The task force addressed Item B in that strategy. I think UND's future might be better served by a renewed focus on Item A.