FGCU considers move to Division I status

After having trouble finding schools in its division to play against, Florida Gulf Coast University may take its sports teams to the next level.

FGCU will study the feasibility of moving from Division II to Division I in the NCAA and what three additional sports it could add to meet the new division’s requirements.

FGCU president Bill Merwin made the announcement Tuesday at a Board of Trustees meeting, citing a failure to find any regional conferences in Division II that would accept the university.

Florida Gulf Coast University's Lori Brooks, left, and Erica Fonseca try to block a spike by Dowling College's Marta Slodnik during the first game of their match Monday, August 29, 2005 at Alico Arena.

Photo by DAVID AHNTHOLZ

Florida Gulf Coast University's Lori Brooks, left, and Erica Fonseca try to block a spike by Dowling College's Marta Slodnik during the first game of their match Monday, August 29, 2005 at Alico Arena.

“It doesn’t seem fair to me,” Merwin said. “If our students play as well as they play, then we need to get them into a conference.”

Without a conference, FGCU has trouble scheduling teams to play against every year. It has to travel all over the country to find competition and sometimes has to pay the other team thousands of dollars just to get a game, a practice which is almost unheard of at the Division II level, said FGCU athletic director Carl McAloose.

When other schools play most of their conference games, it’s nearly impossible for FGCU to find a team to play, McA loose said.

“Scheduling has been a nightmare,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”

A move to Division I would require FGCU to have 14 sports. It now has 11.

FGCU will take a close look at eight sports but football is not one of them, McAloose said.

“Football is the only one we couldn’t afford to add,” he said. “Someday, it wouldn’t surprise me if we play football at FGCU, just not right now.”

Sports that are more feasible include men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field, and men’s and women’s swimming.

FGCU already has an aquatic facility but it would need to build soccer fields and an indoor and outdoor track if it chooses to add those sports.

Additionally, FGCU would have to raise about $1 million more to cover operational budgets, salaries and scholarships for the new sports.

A move to Division I increases the maximum allowable scholarships that FGCU could offer its athletes. The university does not have to offer more scholarships, but in order to be competitive at that level, it should, McAloose said.

The athletics budget at FGCU is currently $3 million, most of which is raised through student fees, season ticket sales and fund raising.

With growth, the budget is projected to reach $4 million by 2007. For the move to Division I, McAloose predicts the program will need about $5 million.

Though FGCU will study all aspects of the proposed move, the most important issue will be whether it can find a Division I conference in the Southeast that will accept it.

Over the past few years, FGCU tried to get into two Division II conferences in the area.

The Sunshine State Conference has all private schools and didn’t want to accept a public school. The Gulf South Conference told FGCU it would have to pay $250,000 per year just to join the conference in a few sports, McAloose said.

Other conferences were geographically too far away and would involve too much time and money to travel, he said.

The odds of finding a Division I conference in FGCU’s region look better, McAloose said.

FGCU already had been contacted by the Atlantic Sun Conference, which contains schools such as Florida Atlantic University, Stetson University in Deland and the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, he said, although FAU is leaving after this season.

The Atlantic Sun Conference “has an interest in us, no question about it,” McAloose said. “It feels pretty good. It’s like you keep asking girls for prom dates and nobody gives you one, and then all the sudden a girl comes up to you and asks you for a date.”

The Atlantic Sun Conference has 11 schools, including FAU, all based in the South. It was founded in 1978 and plays 17 sports but football is not one of them.

The Sun Belt Conference may not be as receptive because FGCU does not play football, said Wright Waters, the Sun Belt Conference commissioner.

The Sun Belt is Division I- A and if FGCU makes the move it would be considered Division I-AAA because it does not play football.

“We’re not in an expansion mode,” Waters said.

“We just went through the recent realignment. As a Division I-A conference, I think anything in the future we would consider would have to include football.”

The addition of FGCU to the Atlantic Sun would give it 12 schools, equally splitting the conference into two divisions.

UNF, which made the jump from Division II to Division I in 2004, recently joined the Atlantic Sun Conference and is happy with the fit, said athletic director Richard Gropper.

FGCU would be a welcome addition to the conference, Gropper said.

“FGCU has outstanding athletic facilities,” he said.

“Certainly it’s a school and an athletic program that’s moving in a very positive direction. (FGCU) seems to be doing everything in a first-class way.”

By moving up to Division I, FGCU could play the big name Florida schools in all sports except football.

That’s very attractive to prospective recruits, Gropper said.

McAloose will give the findings of his feasibility study to FGCU’s board in December. The board could make a decision during its January board meeting.

The earliest that FGCU would add sports is the fall of 2007, McAloose said.

If the university makes the move to Division I, it is required by the NCAA to go through a four-year provisional period in which it cannot compete in postseason play.

Staff writer Will Graves (wrgraves@naplesnews.com) contributed to this article.

© 2005 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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