Official committee recommends RSU seek move from NAIA to NCAA division II
By Josh Haley
Everyone knows the NCAA. But RSU’s athletic programs play in the NAIA, an unknown organization composed mostly of private schools whose total enrollments measure in the hundreds.
University officials want that to change.
RSU took its first step towards applying to move its athletic programs to NCAA division II on April 14, when a university-appointed committee of school and community representatives recommended the move to President Larry Rice.
“We feel like we’re ready to go to division II because we have already competed at a high level in the NAIA,” said Wren Baker, RSU athletic director.
The 21-person committee, a cross-section of students, staff, faculty and community members, was appointed by university officials to hear the details of the move from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The NCAA requires evidence that applying is a university-wide decision.
Baker said the university could ask the Oklahoma University Board of Regents, RSU’s governing body, for permission to apply for the NCAA as early as this spring. If approved, the athletic department could prepare the application this summer and submit it by December, he said.
Applying to the NCAA is a three-year process. Once the application has been processed, it could be as late as June 2011 before a decision to accept or reject the application is made by the NCAA.
If accepted, the university would have until 2012 to make sure its sports programs meet NCAA regulations.
It would compete in the NAIA until then. After a year’s probation in the NCAA, RSU could compete in the NCAA division II playoffs.
Prior to forming the committee, an athletic consulting company was hired to prepare a report given an overview of how well RSU would fit into the NCAA compared to its current home in the NAIA.
The consultant’s report says RSU already looks like it should be in the NCAA division II, where Northeastern State University and other comparable universities in the state compete.
The time is now if a move like this is ever going to take place, Baker said.
The addition of cross-country this fall helps RSU’s application as well because the NCAA requires its members to have at least ten sports.
The NCAA has announced that it plans to cap its membership at 350 schools and right now there are 297, 17 of which are going through the three-year application process.
Ten schools typically apply per year.
RSU currently competes in the Sooner Athletic Conference, which is perennially one of the toughest conferences in NAIA. The Sooner Athletic Conference has produced either the most recent national champion or runner-up in five of the eight sports that RSU competes in. The financial bottom line, Baker said, is that RSU could save up to $100,000 a year by moving to the NCAA.
A big bulk of saving comes from scholarships. When factoring in eight teams consisting of basketball, soccer, golf, baseball, and softball, RSU has 88 scholarships to work with in the NAIA.
Those same sports in the NCAA are only eligible to receive 75 scholarships.
The NAIA also charges annual dues of $4,500 per school, while the NCAA charges just $900.
The annual conference fees are more in the NCAA than in NAIA, but since the NCAA is a non-profit organization, it has a revenue share program that distributes excess money from tournaments, marketing, and other sources to the member schools which, helps to pay for fees such as conference dues.
Another major contributing financial factor is postseason costs. The NAIA pays for no postseason expenses, which means if the RSU basketball team was on the road for 14 total days to compete in the NAIA national tournament, RSU would be financially responsible.
The NCAA, however, pays for all expenses for a team competing in any NCAA tournament.
The application process to the NCAA is far from simple.
The actual application would turn out to be as thick as a novel and would be accompanied by a $28,000 application fee.
The administration would cut a few athletic scholarships to cover the application fee. By doing so, the university not only begins to get acclimated with fewer scholarships, but also begins showing the NCAA that the university’s transition to division II would be a smooth one.
Throughout the application process, the NCAA would pay visits to the campus to ensure RSU is prepared for life in the NCAA.
One main difference between being in the NAIA and in the NCAA is the regulations and guidelines that coaches must follow.
The NCAA requires all coaches to keep a recruiting log that proves they are not contacting any recruit more than one time a week regardless of if that athlete’s respective sport is in season.
There is also an activity rule that states no player or team can be involved in more than a combined 20 hours of university organized athletics practices or games per week.
The NAIA currently has no such rules in effect which is another reason that RSU is attracted to the NCAA because these types of regulations suggest a level playing field. Sources inside the athletic department have said that if RSU were to be accepted into division II, the Heartland conference has shown significant interest in RSU.
The Heartland conference could create lasting rivalries between RSU and conference schools like Oklahoma Panhandle State or University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, who recently joined the conference.
The other logical choice for a conference home would be the Lone Star, which notably consists of Northeastern State University and University of Central Oklahoma.
In a previous version of this article, it was reported that some schools in the Sooner Athletic Conference have expressed interest in applying for NCAA division II membership. This has either been denied by or has not been confirmed with all of the schools. Northwestern State University, however, has also assembled a task force to explore moving from the NAIA to NCAA.