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UT goes Division I?

4/8/17; Siesta Key, FL.; University of Tampa beach volleyball at the Fiesta on Siesta tournament, Siesta Key Beach.

By DEVON CONWAY

On top of paying $40,000 a year to attend UT, would you be willing to spend an extra $4,000 to become a Division I school? That’s what Athletic Director Larry Marfise says it would cost for UT to go Division I in the future.

“If you want to become a DI school, you have to provide funding and have a certain number of sports. It would cost UT $15 million to make the move from DII to DI, but we think we would be really competitive there,” Marfise said.  

Currently, UT has enough men’s and women’s sports to compete at the Division I level, but not enough funding to help reach the Division I status.  

“The process to become a DI university is a lot more complicated than simply informing the NCAA that the university wants to compete at a DI level, like in the past,” Marfise said. “The main issue is funding, which would directly impact UT students. If UT becomes DI in the future, we estimate that an additional $4,000 will be added to the tuition total over the course of the year per student.”

Every year since 2002, UT has seen an increase in tuition (except for the 2016-17 academic year), according to the UT Online Catalogue. The average increase in the tuition per year since 2002 has been $379.80. But if the administration were to add $4,000 to tuition, it would be a larger increase in tuition than the last 10 academic years have seen combined.

Tuition typically goes up as universities expand and the value of the dollar fluctuates, but an increase like the one under discussion for moving UT toward D1 status would be the largest in decades..

As the New York Times reported in January this year, 54 percent of the students in UT’s 2013 class came from households in the top 20 percent of the income distribution and only 5.4 percent came from the bottom 20 percent. In fact, of the 614 private colleges studied, UT ranked 60th for the most students from the top 1 percent of households in the country.

Students across UT have mixed feelings about the possibility of UT converting to a Division I university.  

“If UT was DI and had a football team, I would be perfectly fine with paying extra for my tuition,” said junior Mike Monroe. “I think UT being DI would make our school spirit rise and make more students attend the sporting events around campus.”

The lack of attendance is a serious issue at UT. In its college-football heyday, the school saw a peak attendance in their 1972 Tangerine Bowl game versus Kent State in Orlando. It was a close game with the Spartans winning 21-18 where the teams drew 20,000 in attendance. The game was played at Camping World Stadium, and some students believe the attendance is representative of the potential crowds UT could draw with a competitive Division I schedule.

“UT is already expensive enough; I would not want to spend any extra money to become DI,” said senior Brian Jackson. “If I cared that much about attending a DI university, I easily could have attended one instead of UT.”

Although some students feel indifferent about the possible change, some UT athletes would love the opportunity to play at the Division I level. With the extra funding Division I status provides, athletes are able to experience better facilities, extra travel around the country, more high-quality gear, better exposure to professional scouts, and much more that the Division II level doesn’t allow.  

“I would love to put in extra work on the basketball court, but here at UT the gym closes at 10 p.m., so I’m not able to go during my preferred time,” said senior forward for men’s basketball Duke Shelton. “At DI schools, the players have swipe cards to the gym, so they can train at any time. They also have their own gym, and don’t have to share with other sports and events happening on campus.”

“Before I played soccer at UT as a transfer, I was an athlete at the University of Louisville, which is DI,” said junior defense Alex Jackson. “For our games, we flew everywhere, eliminating the number of classes our team missed and the travel days. Here at UT, we have games in Alabama and Tennessee, but we have to drive there. During the season, I would miss full weeks of school, which negatively impacted my grades. I would love for UT to go DI, just so we can fly to the games and I would not have to miss as much school and social time with my friends.”

The coaches at UT would also highly benefit from becoming a Division I university. With limited funding at the Division II level, coaches are not able to travel to as many destinations across the country to scout athletes, therefore limiting their selection to potential players. Many players are wooed by the name “DI” that they won’t even look into Division II universities.  

“The name DI is what attracts the majority of athletes across the country,” said beach volleyball head coach Jeff Lamm. “I have tried to recruit so many athletes, but since UT is DII, they don’t give me the time of day. Even though UT offers beautiful facilities and top-notch coaches, players won’t budge. I would love for UT to become DI, just so the playing field for recruiting could be level against schools like USF in the Tampa area.”

While the players and coaches are optimistic about the possibility of a transition into a more competitive division, others have noted that they’re content with where the school is now.

If UT makes the transition to a Division I school, it would take three years to fully make the move and five years to be able to compete in championships.

A lot still needs to be considered before any final decisions would be made; for instance would parents take their kids elsewhere with such a hike? Where would they build bigger facilities? How is the university going to get higher student attendance at the games? As UT’s enrollment and national profile continue to rise, these discussions will likely only intensify in the future.

It’s unlikely that UT will see their sports go Division 1 in the next few years. However, this won’t stop coaches, players and donors from trying to make the move eventually.

EDITORS NOTE: In an earlier version of this article, a quote was erroneously attributed to head women’s soccer coach Erin Switalski. This quote did not come from Switalski. The Minaret regrets this very serious error, and has removed the quote from the online version of the article. Additionally, The Minaret, in cooperation with all relevant university authorities, is launching a full investigation into how the quote appeared in the article.

Devon Conway can be reached at devon.conway@theminaretonline.com

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