Step up, or step down

Crossposted at SCSU Scholars.

St. Cloud State (SCSU) is a Division II athletic program except in ice hockey, where there is no Division II and the NCAA allows us to play in Division I. There is a good amount of discussion among administrators and boosters of the athletic program about our move to Division I, particularly since other colleges in the North Central Conference have moved to D-I and left us with scheduling problems in both football and basketball. As I talked about in my lecture notes last May, we have a conflict with football in particular, since the move to D-I is most costly there. D-II football programs may offer a maximum of 36 athletic scholarships; the NCC is a highly competitive conference and many reach the maximum. SCSU, on the other hand, budgets for 24-26 scholarships. Yet you continue to hear around SCSU the rumor that we are considering a move to D-I.

I had assumed all this time that the decision was expensive due to scholarships, but school after school which has a D-I basketball program but had no football has moved to non-scholarship I-AA football programs. A person who worked in the football program at a private midwestern school that was a D-II football program but D-I in basketball when the NCAA changed the rule told me of hearing that his team was going up to D-I. He thought great, they were going to go from 36 scholarship players to 63. No, he was told, they were going non-scholarship — the 36 scholarships were gone, perhaps to pay for the stadium improvements D-I required.

In a recent article John Lombardi does a good job explaining the economic costs of college sports. (The article is based on this study from the University of Florida.) Lombardi suggestst that a school making the move to I-AA football with scholarships must come up with around $775,000. That would involve about an extra $650,000 therefore. How much would the university have to raise, Lombardi asks, to generate an additional $650,000 per year in contributions? If we assume a 4.5% payout from the endowment as he does the answer would be over $14 million.

From where would this come? The endowment revenue we generate now is unlikely to create more than $2 million per year. It therefore seems most likely that if SCSU is to join a league it would have to abandon the scholarships it would either have to create a whole conference of non-scholarship I-AA programs — the Patriot League would be an example — or stay right where it is and deal with the scheduling problems of a declining NCC.

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