New Orleans looks to Division II
UNO hopes to become part of Gulf South Conference in '12-'13
New Orleans Athletics
NEW ORLEANS -- The University of New Orleans announced on Friday morning that is has completed a thorough evaluation of its athletic department and has submitted a proposal to the LSU Board of Supervisors to reclassify from NCAA Division I to NCAA Division II.
University Provost Joe King submitted the proposal late Tuesday as part of the University's agenda items for the regularly scheduled LSU Board of Supervisors meeting that will occur on Mar. 4 in Baton Rouge.
The submission concludes an extensive analysis and budget exercise that began in October.
"Like the academic units on our campus, the LSU Board of Supervisors asked that we evaluate our department," said UNO athletic director Amy Champion. "The end result of the analysis was that Division II was the best course of action for our University moving forward."
The decision to reclassify came after several months of studying each classification of NCAA competition, where it fit within the University's mission and how it would best benefit the institution moving forward.
UNO consulted with the NCAA, Collegiate Consulting (formerly NACDA), as well as institutions and conferences at each level of NCAA competition.
Before a final determination was made, the University and athletic administration conducted an "educational phase" with several internal and external constituencies.
During the phase, the groups were educated on the differences between divisions from all angles - including sport sponsorship, gender equity, academic requirements, compliance, conference affiliation, facilities, budgets and departmental infrastructure.
Feedback was gathered during the educational stage with both the UNO Athletic Advisory Council and the Privateer Athletic Foundation (PAF) Board signing off on the move last week. Student Government president John Mineo also endorsed the move to Division II.
"The PAF viewed this as an opportunity for athletics to lead the rebuilding of a fractured community," said PAF President Mike Sapera. "This move is not a step up or step back, but a step forward."
A move to Division II is a change of direction for the University, which is currently competing as an NCAA Division I Independent as part of a conditional year under the school's previous intent to transition to Division III.
In order to complete the reclassification, UNO will need formal approval from the NCAA Division II Membership Committee in late March or early April. The University's place on the committee's agenda is dependent upon the LSU Board of Supervisors' decision.
One of the primary factors in the switch to Division II from Division III was the ability to find a conference home.
"One of the biggest hurdles we faced in our transition to NCAA Division III was finding a conference home," said Champion. "It is critical as an athletic department to be eligible for awards, compete for championships and have a consistent schedule."
The Gulf South Conference has extended a formal invitation to the University to apply for membership in the league upon its acceptance into Division II.
GSC Commissioner Nate Salant, representatives from the GSC member institutions and the NCAA were on campus this past Thursday meeting with University administrators, athletic department staff and representatives from the PAF.
The Birmingham, Ala. based league has courted UNO during the last 14 months; providing supportive materials and resources to assist the University in completing its evaluation.
"The University of New Orleans is a perfect fit for the GSC and has interested us for quite some time," Salant said. "It is comparable to most of our current members in terms of its enrollment size, wide variety of undergraduate majors and advanced degrees, geographic location, facilities and resources.
"Given that the institution has committed to adding football, UNO is even more attractive now, and we look forward to sealing the deal."
The GSC currently sponsors championships in 14 sports, all at the NCAA Division II level.
The league is nationally recognized for its GSC-TV LIVE NETWORK, which is carried locally by Cox Sports Television, as well as tremendous success on the field of play.
The seven men's sports include baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, soccer and tennis with the seven women's sports consisting of basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball.
The league's membership in 2011-12 features Alabama-Huntsville, Christian Brothers, Delta State, North Alabama, Valdosta State, West Florida and West Georgia. The league is expected to announce further expansion for 2012-13 and beyond, with the expectation of growing to 12 members by 2014-15, according to Salant.
"The GSC provides our University a conference that is easy to navigate," said Champion. "Each of the schools in the league is no more than eight hours away with the conference utilizing travel partners in basketball and volleyball, which will allow our students to minimize missed class time."
The GSC will be enthusiastic to have UNO and the city of New Orleans in the league, according to Salant. In addition to the possibilities of hosting conference championships on a routine basis, the conference feels that the city of New Orleans could host the seasonal NCAA Division II Sports Festival.
"UNO brings a 'destination city' to our league, given the fact that New Orleans is a very attractive place to host league, regional and national championships," said Salant. "Furthermore, it is a great potential site for NCAA Division II Olympics-style Fall, Winter and Spring Sports Festivals, which would provide multi-million dollar tourist bonanzas."
"And, to be honest, they would also make a great travel partner with and tremendous rival for West Florida, which further enhances our league."
Division II requires that school competes in 10 sports.
The University, which now competes in nine sports under a sport-sponsorship waiver received in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will move quickly to reach 10 sports in 2011-12. UNO plans to formally announce the new sports for which it will sponsor upon acceptance into Division II.
Though football will not be one of the sports announced upon acceptance, UNO intends to add varsity intercollegiate football in the next five years. The school has never competed at the varsity level, though has been home to a successful club football program.
"In order for this athletic department to succeed, football is a necessity," said Champion. "For the first time in the history of this University, football is a matter of 'when' and not 'if'."
The GSC is a very competitive football league that has won 10 Division II national titles since 1971. The league has committed to assisting UNO in taking the initial steps in establishing a varsity program when the school is ready.
UNO is no stranger to Division II competition, last competing at the level from the birth of its athletic program in 1969 until 1975.
The University had success as an NCAA Division II member with the baseball team earning a spot in the 1974 Division II College World Series under head coach Ron Maestri, while the men's basketball team made four appearances in the NCAA Division II national tournament, including a fourth place finish in 1974 and a runner-up showing in 1975.
Founded in 1910, the NCAA is the governing body for more than 1,200 schools with more than 400,000 student-athletes. In 1973, the membership divided among three divisions. Currently there are 288 Division II members.
UNO TIMELINE FOR DIVISION II RECLASSIFICATION
Feb. 1, 2011 -- UNO Provost Joe King submitted the Division II proposal to the LSU Board of Supervisors.
Feb. 3, 2011 -- NCAA and the Gulf South Conference visit campus
Mar. 4, 2011 -- UNO Provost Joe King and athletic department administration presents Division II plan to LSU Board of Supervisors
Mar. - Apr. 2011 -- If approval received from LSU Board of Supervisors, UNO is on the NCAA Division II Membership Committee agenda.
2011-12 -- The department fields teams with scholarship student-athletes per NCAA Division II procedures and spends the year getting in compliance with NCAA Division II standards.
2012-13 -- UNO begins competition in all sports as a full championship-eligible member of the Division II Gulf South Conference.