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May 19, 2004

North Dakota State Psyched About Division I Status

FROM AMERICA’S BREADBASKET comes an inspiring story about an obscure university struggling to gain respect, as North Dakota State University heads into the home stretch in its ambitious advancement into the rarified ranks of Division I.

North Dakotans are a resilient and proud populace. Numbering less than 650,000 strong and geographically removed in the upper north central of the country, NoDak has historically endured a conspicuous lack of notoriety and fame. In the sports world, it’s been decades since Fargo’s Roger Maris put the state on the map. More recently, the University of North Dakota has made quite a splash in Division I hockey, with two Frozen Four titles and a runner-up over the past seven years.

To be sure, many schools have used athletics as the lynchpin of a strategy to propel their institution—and sometimes their entire state—into the echelon of the relevant that is Division I. North Dakota State (NDSU) is not breaking new ground here.

Upgrading to Division I is no inexpensive proposition. But NDSU has astutely observed the challenges of the many schools that have preceded it. Their deliberate approach will likely lead to a successful transition into Division I.

The Forum (Fargo ND) recently ran a series of articles detailing NDSU’s D1 upgrade plans. Herewith is a condensation of The Forum’s lengthy report.

The big nut for NDSU is the projected $7.7 million budget for its first year in Division I. The following puts the $7.7 million in perspective:

• NDSU’s Division II budget last year was $6 million.

• NDSU’s $7.7 million is the third highest budget of the last 12 schools that have stepped up to—or are in the process of—Division I.

• South Dakota State, which will also move up to Division I next year, will have an estimated budget of $5.5 million.

• Northern Colorado, which went D1 this year, has a projected athletics budget of $4.5 million.

Entry into the Division I ranks is not for the faint hearted. NCAA studies have shown that Division I-AA schools lose over $3 million dollars annually.

These deficits occur in every region of the country. In neighboring Montana, there have been recent disasters. The University of Montana had a $1 million deficit (out of a $9 million budget). And Montana State lost $1 million two years ago and almost a half million last year (our of a total budget of about $8 million).

Much of the increased cost is constituted by the increased number of scholarships that come with D1 status. The total number of scholarships at NDSU will increase from 91 to 140½, which increases the budget by almost a million dollars.

Moreover, the upgraded D1 schedule will increase travel costs (the football team alone will spend double what it did last year). The football team will fly four times next year; versus only once last year.

NDSU is about a million dollars short of the funds needed to fund the $7.7 million dollar budget, so an intensive drive is underway to line up donors to make up the shortfall. With proud alumni all over the country, the fundraising effort is off to a good start.

As part of the perceived brass ring of Division I, NDSU has its sights set on a future share of NCAA money from its $6 billion contract with CBS. For example, members of the neighboring Big Sky conference received $123,000 from the NCAA.

North Dakota is the geographic center of North America. Who knows? Maybe someday it will find itself in the center of an NCAA championship.

(this 594 word excerpt—with related commentary—was extracted from two articles, one 2276 words and the other 891 words—from The Forum [Fargo ND])