Effects of DI transition period fuzzy

Justin R. Lessman

Justin R. Lessman

If SDSU’s proposed move to Division I athletic competition is approved by the Board of Regents this week, the next five years could be a trying time for fans, athletes and coaches.

Last April, DI schools approved a five-year transition period for applicants. The plan stipulated that applicants would not be eligible for DI postseason competition for five years.

The first year of transition would be an exploratory year for SDSU.

Bob Oliver, an intercollegiate athletic consultant, said this period of time is designed as a “last-chance” option for the school.

“Technically, the institution could decide not to make the move during this year,” he said.

Though SDSU would not be eligible for DI postseason competition, they would remain eligible for DII postseason play during the first year.

The next four years would be devoted to the process of reclassification. It is during these years that SDSU would be unable to participate in any postseason competition.

It only gets worse for men’s basketball.

Coupled with the initial five-year drought, an additional eight-year wait is required before the Jacks would be eligible for a bid in the NCAA tournament.

Athletic Director Fred Oien said DI schools require this holding period in an effort to slow things down and avoid panicked rushes to DI.

Current DI schools who have shares in television dollars from the tournament also push the stipulation.

Oien said he anticipates that the wait will be difficult.

“The transition period will be the toughest period of time for the institution,” he said. “The NCAA tournament is a great benefit, too, but not the main purpose of this (the move).”

Supporters of the move to DI have said that recruiting at SDSU would be greatly enhanced by the new athletic classification.

However, some opponents say the five and thirteen year absences from postseason eligibility may be detrimental to recruitment.

Jim Marking, basketball coach at SDSU from 1960 to 1975, said he believes potential athletes will be deterred from coming to SDSU if there is no chance of playing in the postseason.

“Sure it will affect their decisions,” he said. “A lot of people will be turned off by the postseason wait.”

Richard Waldner, former head of the SDSU Physical Plant and supporter of SDSU athletics, agrees.

“You’re going to lose some player interest for sure,” he said.

“Why would someone want to come and play here and work hard not knowing what you’re working for?”

Aaron Johnson, head women’s basketball coach at SDSU, said he believes players and their parents do not place as much importance on postseason play as some people think

“I think that that is a piece of the puzzle that people look at in recruiting, but that is a very small piece,” he said.

“When I sit down with student athletes and mothers and fathers, they want to know what type of person that their daughter is going to be with for a period of time, what the standards are that are going to be placed on academics, social behavior and what type of teammate they are going to be.

“These are the things that they care about and more about than championships.”

The years of ineligibility could impact SDSU’s fan base, as well.

Waldner said he could easily see the impact being negative.

“SDSU could sure lose some true fans in those years,” he said.

“The fans could lose some interest and then attendance could fall off.”

Marking agreed.

“Sure it’s going to affect fans and supporters,” he said. “We should just stay in Division II, the NCC, and play for postseason championships.”

Keith Jensen, the former executive director of the SDSU Alumni Association and a loyal Jacks fan, refutes those who say they would abandon the program if the DI reclassification were approved.

“I believe true and loyal supporters and fans will stay with the Jacks whether they stay Division II or go Division I,” he said.

“I am certainly one who will be there and I believe that anybody else who says that is just saying that because that is a good thing to say when you’re opposed to something. I believe that loyal fans that support South Dakota State will be there if we go Division I.”