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Evansville Courier & Press (Indiana)
Last month, former NCAA Division II Great Lakes Valley Conference member Northern Kentucky University earned the Horizon League's automatic bid into the Division I men's basketball tournament in its first year of eligibility.
Meanwhile, the fan reaction from current GLVC member University of Southern Indiana was: That could be us someday.
Television deals and other factors continue to realign Division I conferences.
Recently, Wichita State left the Missouri Valley for greener pastures in the American Athletic. Its departure creates a trickle-down effect and the MVC could seek expansion beyond simply replacing the Shockers. Valparaiso (Horizon) and Murray State (Ohio Valley) have been speculated to be leading candidates, and then those conferences would need to find replacements.
USI will break ground in May on the first of a two-phase, $57 million renovation of the Physical Activities Center - supplying its basketball and volleyball programs with a state-of-the-art arena that seats 4,000. There are currently 69 Division I gyms that are smaller than that.
With all that said, is the university actively looking to follow in the footsteps of NKU and others that have made the jump? The answer right now remains: never say never, but it's not being discussed right now.
"Our main focus right now is taking the programs we have and putting them in a position to compete for NCAA championships on a more regular basis," USI Athletic Director Jon Mark Hall said. "We don't really talk Division I, but I do think once the new facility is finished then you can check off one thing that maybe we needed to get ourselves to a certain level."
Unquestionably, the renovation will help attract more recruits. Much like some decide if they'd rather play for a weak Division I or strong Division II program, that is also something that schools looking to make the jump up or step down consider.
The biggest challenge is funding - not just whether USI could compete in a conference like the Horizon or OVC. There is a hefty fee in applying to the NCAA for reclassification. Then, on average, schools would need to add about $3 million to its athletic budget to commit to making that leap.
USI's budget is in the middle of the pack in the GLVC and likely the same in Division II.
But the new PAC (which will be renamed) will be one box checked off if an opportunity presents itself.
"It's just one piece to the puzzle," Hall said. "If there is a time the leadership of this institution wanted to go play and compete at the Division I level then you'd have some facilities on campus that would be close to being ready to go."
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