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Is moving to Division I sports worth the investment?

Ryan Vasquez Jan 2, 2012

Stacey Vanek Smith: If you like college football, today is your day — six bowl games. These days,of course, a lot of colleges are hoping to parlay the sports love into sorely needed cash — including one school in Florence, Ala. Alabama Public Radio’s Ryan Vasquez has more.

Ryan Vasquez: Six months ago, the University of North Alabama jumped up a level from Division II sports to Division I.

Athletic Director Mark Linder says it’s not just about bringing in more fans, but also new students.

Mark Linder: We see this as a way for us to go get more customers, because if we’re going to stay stagnant waiting for Montgomery to bail us out, we’re not optimistic about that. So it’s kind of like control your own destiny.

The school’s publicity campaign is even called Destiny by Choice. Linder sees athletics as the new model for growth. He says the last 20 universities that made the transition to Division I grew by 11 percent.

Linder: Now is athletics the only reason why these institutions grew? No, I’m sure there were some other fantastic things going on on their campus, but it seems like athletics was a catalyst.

If the University of North Alabama grew by 11 percent, it would mean 800 more paying students. It could also mean big money to play football games against larger Division I schools like Auburn or Mississippi State.

But you have to spend money to make money. And that worries students like Tony Amylan.

Tony Amylan: I mean, we’re trying to go Division I with no money, so that’s an issue. I think it’s $4 million we’ve got to come up with.

Actually it’s about $3.5 million. The students voted against the move to Division I because the university plans to raise the student fee by more than $200 a year. The school would also have to add two more sports to qualify for Division I.

Ralph Akalanu is the student government president.

Ralph Akalanu: We kind of were hearing all the different increases and fees that were going to be put in place, and students didn’t really see the fee increase or move to Division I as really worth the amount they were going to pay.

But this summer, the schools board voted 6-3 to take the leap to Division I. And the University of North Alabama expects to seize its destiny beginning in 2013.

From Florence, Ala., I’m Ryan Vasquez for Marketplace.

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