DI opposition grows at Sioux Falls forum

Justin R. Lessman

Justin R. Lessman

Opponents spoke of the past, supporters spoke of the future, and both talked about the financing of SDSU’s proposed move to Division I athletic competition Wednesday at an open forum at USDSU in Sioux Falls.

About 50 people attended the forum to voice opinions to the South Dakota Board of Regents, who may act on the proposal when they hear it at the end of this week in Rapid City.

Those speaking in support of the move argued that SDSU’s current conference (the DII North Central Conference) is quickly becoming a different conference than the one it once was.

To maintain a high degree of competitiveness, they claimed, and to bring more prestige to the institution, a move to DI is imperative and inevitable.

SDSU Athletic Director Fred Oien said he sees DII getting “watered down” by weaker college teams entering the Jack’s field of play. He said this trend is becoming more and more obvious and will soon negatively affect the level of competition

Opponents of the switch disagreed saying the NCC is not weakening, but remaining the top DII conference in the nation.

Jim Marking, SDSU basketball coach from 1960 to 1975, said he believes that the NCC will continue to be one of the best DII conferences in the country, and SDSU would be sorry if they bailed on it now.

“This conference will be a great conference,” he said. “We can keep the tradition of what we had in the past and it will continue in the future.”

By not going DI, Lowell Gilbertson, a citizen from Arlington, said, SDSU, can set an example for other schools trying to move, and retain all the glamour and strength the NCC currently has. He called it a “sound organization.”

“With SDSU, it has eight members. North Dakota State, without a travel partner, will forget about Division I, because nobody will take them in and they’ll ask to get back in the conference,” he said.

Questions about financing the move were also raised.

“This is what this is all about today folks is money, is how are you going to support this,” he said. “I love this school and I hate to see it go down the drain.”

“I say the people of South Dakota do not see the need or have the ability to pay for Division I athletics,” Gilbertson said. “Don’t be a part of the greatest blunder in the field of education in our state. This will be a financial disaster.”

Both Oien and SDSU President Peggy Miller have said that raising money for the budget increase will not be impossible.

Miller reported that a deceased athletic booster recently donated about $2.7 million to the athletic program and that another $2.8 million had already been stored away.

Oien has repeatedly said that the athletic department will not ask for money from students in the immediate future, either.

Later in the afternoon, Lorna Jost, a research assistant at SDSU, presented the BOR with a petition in opposition of the DI move signed by more than 1,500 South Dakotans. Jost said the petition had only circulated three weeks.

“With all the opposition, I should think it would make the administration nervous about pulling all this off,” Jost said.

Those in favor of the DI move claimed it has wide support on campus and in the community.

Students’ Association Vice-President Ben Solomon told the BOR that about 85 percent of students on campus support the move, even when told there could be a student fee increase.

“Students realize the move will advance athletics and academics,” he said.

Roberta Olson, College of Nursing dean, said nearly all SDSU college deans support it.

However, Zach Olson, president of the SDSU Student Athletic Advisory Committee, said representatives of the 18 different sports offered at SDSU voted in opposition of the move. Of the 18, nine voted against the proposal, while seven voted in favor of it, with two abstentions.

Olson said, “I guess you have to take that for what it is.”

#1.887686:1201825327.jpg:Image: DI opposition grows at Sioux Falls forum:Board of Regents members Harvey Jewett and Dr. Robert (Tad) Perry question Mike Reger, SDSU administrative vice-president, at the Division I forum held in Sioux Falls last Wednesday. The regents voiced concerns that SDSU officials will lobby for more student fees to pay for the proposed move to DI athletic competition. The board will hear the official proposal this week in Rapid City.: