South Dakota leaves North Central Conference for D-I

VERMILLION, S.D. -- In pursuit of what its president calls the "competitive experience," the University of South Dakota has decided to move its athletic programs from NCAA Division II to the Division I level.

In doing so, the state's second-largest university will follow in the footsteps of other North Central Conference members schools that have -- or will -- move to Division I.

"We felt very comfortable in Division II and in the NCC, but with the University of North Dakota's Division I announcement earlier this year, it is clear that the competitive experience our student-athletes have enjoyed for nearly a century will no longer be available in Division II," USD president Jim Abbott said Wednesday in making his decision public.

"Our student-athletes and fans deserve a competitive experience. Based on the recommendation of the task force, the consultant and the information gathered via public forums, we are convinced that seeking a change in athletic classification is in the best interest of our students, our fans and the university," Abbott said.

South Dakota State University, North Dakota State University and Northern Colorado have left the NCC for Division I. The University of North Dakota announced this year it will do the same.

USD sponsors 17 intercollegiate, varsity sports with more than 350 student athletes. It has an enrollment of around 8,700.

In July, Abbott appointed a 26-member task force to review the university's NCAA division classification and conference affiliation. The task force hired the Inter-Collegiate Athletic Consulting group to assist in a comprehensive review. Earlier this month the task force recommended reclassification.

Pending approval from the Board of Regents, the university will enter an exploratory year in 2007-08. The exploratory year is a transition year allowing the university to address primary issues including alumni and fan support, conference affiliation and

The Board of Regents has scheduled a public hearing Dec. 11 in Sioux Falls on the USD decision. The board said it set aside four hours to take comment from university officials, the public and other interested parties.

"The University of South Dakota, the state's flagship institution founded in 1862, values its role as the state's comprehensive liberal arts institution. We want to compete with institutions that share our commitment to academics and have a similar mission," Abbott said.

Another NCC member, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is studying Division I status or membership in another conference. Augustana has decided to remain at the Division II level but is interested in leaving the NCC for the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

The other current NCC schools are Minnesota-Mankato, St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth.

Abbott said the Division I switch by other schools has ended some long rivalries for USD.

"I think we have missed over the last few years the rivalries with other schools that are now Division I. I'm looking forward to that and secondly, the schools we want to be like, many are already Division I and it seems logical to be involved with those schools that are peer institutions," he said.