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October 14, 2004

Movin’ On Up?

FROM THE SOUTHWEST CORNER OF THE SUNSHINE STATE comes the story of Florida Gulf Coast University--born in 1997--that has grown by leaps and bounds from a couple thousand acres of farmland to a thriving institution of 6500 students.

In just a few years the FGCU Eagles have skipped quickly from NAIA to NCAA Division II. They now have 11 varsity teams, and many of them quite competitive in D2—the men’s basketball team won 30 straight home games, plus they beat D1 Indiana-Purdue and D1 Eastern Illinois on back-to-back nights last season. The team ranked in the D2 top five in only its second season.

Success has come so far and so fast that there has already been talk of moving up to Division I.

Not bad for an eight year old school.

But there are a host of obstacles to consider, most revolving around money:

• A move to D1 would require at least a doubling of the athletics budget from $2 million to $4 million.

• The state kicks in a paltry 7% of the FGCU athletics budget. The other 93% comes from student fees, ticket revenue and fund raising.

• Student fees have already been raised four times (the average is about $160 per semester for a full-time student).

• Fund-raising has been difficult; the school is so new that “most of the alumni are so young they’re getting carded when they have a beer with dinner.”

• Expenses would increase (travel, scholarships, addition of three varsity teams to get to the NCAA-required 14 teams, etc.).

On a more philosophic level, there has been lively debate in FGCU circles about the attraction of being #1 (in D2) or the specter of being #100—or #200—in D1.

Said one student, “I’d rather see us lose by 85 to Duke (than win a Division II national title).”

Meanwhile, FGCU baseball coach Dave Deiros said, “Why not take our time and establish ourselves as a Division II program and then make the transition like other successful programs have done?”

Stay tuned . . . . .

Some other schools who have gone D1 or are considering D1:

# students: 30,223
# sports: 25 (13 women, 12 men)
NCAA D2 Championships: 8

# students: 14,120
# sports: 17
NCAA D2 Championships: 4

# students:: 11,757
# sports: 16 (9 women, 7 men)
NCAA D2 Championships: none

LONGWOOD U. (Virginia)
# students: 4300
# sports: 14 (8 women, 6 men)
NCAA D2 Championships: 5 (all in women's golf)


(this 422 word excerpt—with accompanying commentary—was culled from a 3307 word article from the Naples Daily News of 10-10-04)