DI transition committees will use summer to strategize in six areas

Justin R. Lessman

Justin R. Lessman

Last year at this time, talk of SDSU reclassifying its athletic program to NCAA Division I was just a whisper in the South Dakota breeze. Students mentioned it in passing. The public talked about it at area coffee shops. Faculty and administration scanned information about the concept.

It seemed so far away.

Now, after a year of questions, meetings, public forums, letters to the editor, discussions, arguments, disagreements and a stamp of approval from the South Dakota Board of Regents, SDSU is poised and ready to make the dream of Division I a reality.

Accordingly, it does not come as a surprise that athletic department officials have a full summer ahead of them.

“Things are still progressing,” said Fred Oien, SDSU athletic director. “We’ll just keep working on our objectives until they have all been completed.”

Meanwhile, the DI transition team, composed of members of the former leadership team which studied the move to DI, is scheduled to continue meeting with consultants over the summer.

In addition to these meetings, the team has been split into six subset committees and paired with campus representatives with expertise in certain areas of interest. These subset committees will work toward drafting a portion of the formal strategy plan.

Oien said the strategy plan is being created to outline obstacles that remain in the quest for DI and to suggest solutions to those problems.

The six areas that the subset committees will look into are: academic support systems and the development of an academic criteria plan, NCAA compliance issues, fundraising development and techniques, development of external facilities and the financing of those, student athlete welfare including Title IX compliance, and university environment.

Oien said each of the six subset committees will outline goals and objectives of their specific area over the up-coming five-year transition period, suggest how to reach these, and the desired outcome.

Oien said he expects the final copy of the formal strategy plan to be completed by the fourth week of July. That gives athletic department officials just one month to formulate future strategy, as SDSU must notify the North Central Conference of its plans for the 2004-05 season by Sept. 1. Also looming in the distant future is the Dec. 1 deadline to submit a formal letter of intent to the NCAA applying for reclassification to DI athletic competition.

So, what needs to be accomplished yet before these final steps can be taken?

The most pressing issue is finding a suitable conference affiliation.

Thus far, SDSU has gotten the cold shoulder from the Big Sky Conference to the west, the affiliation that athletic department officials had deemed the most suitable.

Recent talks between SDSU, NDSU and other area schools indicate that interest in forming a new DI-AA football-only conference has been growing. However, suitable conference affiliation would still need to be located for the other sport programs.

“At this time, no conference affiliation has been found,” Oien said.

“The search continues. We are still visiting with various conference officials, with athletic directors and university presidents.”

And what if no conference has been nailed down by the Sept. 1 deadline?

“We have no formal plan in place if that happens,” Oien said.

Top athletic department officials are not the only SDSU personnel involved in the DI transition process. Coaches are also being affected, along with their job responsibilities.

“Coaches are very much involved in the transition,” Oien said. “In the summer, coaches are busy with pre-work on recruitment and preparation for the upcoming season. This summer, coaches will be involved with scheduling issues over the five-year transition period.”

Aaron Johnston, head women’s basketball coach, said his summer will be very full, just like any other summer, yet a little different in the wake of the DI transition.

“Yes, the Division I transition will pose more of a challenge to coaches, especially in the scheduling of competitive games,” he said.

Johnston said one aspect of his job that will change in the future is recruitment of athletes.

“Division I places more restrictions on recruiting,” he said. “There will be more work out of the office and on the phone, and less travel than before. After we get the process down, it could maybe even be a little easier from that perspective.”

Johnston said normally SDSU puts on basketball camps from the first of June to the 15th. Then, the NCAA-mandated recruitment period goes into effect, lasting from June 15 to Aug. 1.

“I would say normally we are on the road 75 percent of those days,” Johnston said. “We head to tournaments and other games and scrimmages. But in Division I, that will change some. It will be a big change for all coaches, from basketball to baseball.”

Despite the changes looming on the DI horizon, Oien said he has complete confidence in all of his department personnel and head coaches and believes that they are prepared for the switch to DI.

“I feel that all of the coaches function at the appropriate level for Division I already,” he said. “They are completely prepared and ready for this move.”

What a difference one year makes.