North Dakota planning move to Division I in two years

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The University of North Dakota plans to begin switching all of its athletics programs to the NCAA's Division I in two years, UND president Charles Kupchella said.

"Sooner or later, we're going to have to make this move," Kupchella said at a news conference Wednesday. "If that's the case, we might as well get started."

The move follows North Dakota State University's decision to move from Division II, where NDSU had been a football power, to Division I. North Dakota State began playing Division I competition regularly last year.

UND has a Division I program in men's and women's hockey, but its remaining sports, including basketball and football, compete at the Division II level.

Dale Lennon, UND's football coach, said the change would cause some initial difficulties with scheduling and recruitment during the transition period. But when the switch is made, there are exciting opportunities, he said.

"I think we'll be in a better place than we were this past year, where we were indecisive," Lennon said. "Now we have a plan. We know how to go about it. We know what we can tell the recruits ... and that definitely gives us a lot more clarity to sell the program."

Kupchella said UND will not begin its "exploratory" year for moving to Division I until 2007-08. The transition process typically takes five years. UND's reclassification should be
completed at the end of the 2011-12 season.

The two years before the exploratory period begins will give UND time to develop a business plan and to begin raising the money to make the change properly, Kupchella said.

He estimated moving to Division I will mean another $2 million in athletics expenditures each year. The university will set to work raising its endowment, said Kupchella, who also mentioned the possibility of an increase in student fees to raise the extra funds.

"There's been some very specific donor interest ... in this particular kind of a move that you didn't have a number of years ago," Kupchella said.

Robert Boyd, a UND vice president, headed a university task force that examined the proposal for more than six months.

Its report, published May 31, raised concerns about how UND would pay for a move to Division I and what conference it would join. UND is now in the North Central Conference, which is made up of Division II schools, including the University of South Dakota and St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.

Kupchella said he believed the NCC schools will join UND and NDSU in Division I in the future. The change will also allow UND to resume its athletics rivalry with NDSU, which was severely dampened when North Dakota State converted to Division I.

"I certainly think all North Dakotans miss that rivalry very much," Kupchella said. "Somewhere out there, I assume that we will see that restored ... I don't know that there's a soul that wouldn't want to see that come back in some form, at least anywhere near here."

Roger Thomas, the NCC's commissioner, said UND was a founding member of the league and he was disappointed to learn the school plans to leave. Thomas described the conference as being committed to Division II.

"We are dedicated to keeping the NCC strong and are aggressively pursuing additional institutions to join the league," Thomas said. "For 85 years, the North Central Conference has come to symbolize strong NCAA Division II competition, and we don't expect that to end."