Northern Kentucky University came out yesterday and said it would be joining Division I of the NCAA. While the university has not had any discussions with potential conferences, the president of the university mentioned the Horizon League and Ohio Valley Conference as potential matches in Division I.
On the outside, it looks like a terrible idea. NKU is D-II and would not see a decent D-I program for at least five years into their existence. Barely any schools have made the move to D-I and into a mid-major conference, and notable schools to have done so are far in the rear-view mirror (hint – it’s us and our fellow H-League publics).
Taking a closer look, however, has allowed me to see some things that definitely pique my interest. Here are some of them, along with reasons to not include NKU:
– Facility. The Bank of Kentucky Center was finished in 2008 and has been used here as a reason we’re so far behind despite a great mid-major program all-around. The Norse used this potential move to D-I as an opportunity to build the facility, and it’s a bona fide D-I arena. It seats 10,000, hosts concerts and comedians, and is a big boon to the university (hint hint WAKE UP UWM). If NKU is turned away, the arena won’t be the reason.
– Geography. Northern Kentucky may sound like Dixie, but it’s just seven miles southeast of Cincinnati. The Norse would have geographical rivals in Wright State and Butler, and the conference would get back the Cincinnati market it lost with the departure of Xavier. They’re a better fit for the conference than, say, Oral Roberts or any of the Dakota schools. Other teams are better fits geographically (IPFW, Oakland) but NKU wouldn’t be left out because of travel costs.
– Commitment. Unlike some schools in this conference (as in, most), Northern Kentucky has built the arena, is putting together their move the right way, and it bringing a commitment to the D-I idea. It seems like being D-II was one of the only gripes they have, as this poster said on the article:
“I started at NKU in 1991, and have seen NKU grow throughout the years. I am very proud of my degree there. The one gripe we always had as students was the Division II status. We were very happy with the quality of the program, but it just wasn’t the same as some of my buddy’s smaller D-1 schools they went to. I have held my checkbook near and dear waiting for a move to D-1. I’m proud to say I fully support the move and will do anything I can to support NKU financially. Hello season tickets!”
It seems to me like NKU is ready to go big time and the Horizon League isn’t a terrible fit. That being said…
– Finances. The NKU athletics program spent $5.788 Million in athletics this season, which would be less than Green Bay, the Horizon League’s cheapest school (haha I’m using that now). While the commitment has been shown to build the arena, I’d like to see NKU bump their annual budget closer to $10 million like the rest of the conference. While Green Bay only has slightly more than NKU, they don’t have a lot of teams right in their area – we are the closest D-I school to the Phoenix. NKU has a bunch of D-I schools in that area. Think if Parkside went D-I, only they were in South Milwaukee and not Kenosha. They’d have a brand new 10,000 seat arena, but could they fill it? Or come close?
– Time. With so many schools jumping to D-I, the standard wait time for a successful program is five years or longer. Would we want to admit them and wait for 2016 or 2017 for them to be a real program? In my mind, I’d rather admit them in 2020 when they’ve established themselves in D-I. The North Dakota States of the world are few and far between, and even the Bison have had trouble since their redshirt class graduated.
All in all, my answer to NKU would be no. But that ‘no’ would change in five years if things fall into place. In closing, I would like to say that I love the idea of the “Norse” being our southern-most team.