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Southern Indiana set to jump to Division I

Prepareth thine hearts and thine eardrums, the Screaming Eagles have arrived

Syndication: Evansville Courier and Press
Southern Indiana won one Division II national championship and was runner-up twice.
Sam Owens/ Courier & Press via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The NCAA Division I ranks are set to welcome its 360th member.

On Monday, the board of trustees from the University of Southern Indiana, a public university located just outside Evansville with an enrollment of just under 10,000, approved the university to make a formal application to move from Division II to Division I by a vote of 9-0.

Finally, the true desire of every college basketball fan is fulfilled: having two collegiate basketball programs in Evansville, Indiana, and finally maybe a competitive one. (Sorry, Purple Aces.)

About the program

USI was originally founded as Indiana State University-Evansville before becoming an independent institution in 1985. The athletics program was a founding member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference when it formed in 1978 and has remained in the conference ever since. USI will be the fourth program to jump to D-I from the GLVC in the last 15 years, joining SIU Edwardsville (2008), Northern Kentucky (2012) and Bellarmine (2020).

The university currently offers 18 NCAA-sponsored men’s and women’s sports, with a 19th — swimming and diving — to be added this fall in concurrence with the move. In its time in Division II, it has captured four national championships: two in baseball (2010, 2014), one in softball (2018) and one in men’s basketball (1995). The school does not sponsor football and did not consider adding it when conducting its feasibility study.

The USI men’s basketball program has made 28 Division II tournament appearances, fifth most among active D-II schools with one championship and two runners-up finishes. Interesting tidbit: the Division II Men’s Tournament Elite Eight has been scheduled to be hosted in Evansville each year from 2019-2025, a unique home court advantage that USI is forgoing in the event it would make it that far (as it did in 2019). The women’s basketball team finished as runner-up to North Dakota in 1997.

One of the most well known individuals associated with the USI men’s basketball program is Bruce Pearl, who in his nine seasons as head coach led the team to the D-II tournament each year, including a runner-up finish in 1994 and the 1995 title.

Most surprisingly, the school was not penalized for recruiting violations during his time in charge (although his successor was caught violating rules and was fired).

About that mascot

There are a ton of unique D-I college team nicknames. Some of them include an adjective (i.e. colors, like Black Knights or Golden Eagles).

How many different adjectives can you think of that are describing an ongoing action? (Hint: think words that end with -ing or -in’.)

Don’t scroll down to ruin it.

Be patient.

Think.

Got it?

Here’s the answer (if our research is correct):

There’s fighting or fightin’ as in Fighting Hawks and Fightin’ Camels.

There’s runnin’ as in Runnin’ Rebels and Runnin’ Bulldogs.

There’s Ragin’ Cajuns.

There’s a Thundering Herd.

There’s Chokin’ as in, you know, the Chokin’ Cavs in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. (Did you know that top overall seed Virginia lost to 16-seed UMBC? Wild.)

And now: behold, the Screaming Eagles. As if normal eagles weren’t fierce enough.

For real though, USI’s nickname is instantly near the top of team nicknames in Division I, only a touch behind the Blue Hose maybe? (Fun fact: they do use “Screagle” for short.)

On the school’s website, articles describe the nickname/mascot as having originally been “Spartans” in 1965 before the students helped change it to “Screaming Eagles” before the first basketball season in 1970, and how the costumed mascot’s name was voted on to be Archibald “Archie” T. Eagle, with the “T” standing for only the most menacing and original word befitting a screaming eagle: “The.” But at first pass, there was no mention on how or why the word “screaming” was included.

Next up: The Cryin’ Morrisons.

About the move

USI president Ronald Rochon publicly announced back in September that the school would conduct a feasibility study for elevating athletics to Division I. The study involved the formation of a 25-member exploratory committee consisting of members of the university community, including faculty, athletic staff and students.

Part of the exploratory committee’s process scored the university’s readiness for the move on a scale of 1-3: “1” meaning immediately ready; “2” meaning ready with minor adjustments and “3” meaning requiring more than minor adjustments. Those are based on research of similar institutions, and with the help of an outside firm.

In the findings, which were released last month, five aspects were scored “1,” 11 were scored “2” and 10 were scored “3.” Most of the aspects that the committee felt did not require a large adjustment involved the maintenance of a strong “academic and campus community.”

The primary concern, surprise surprise, is that USI will need to pony up some cash to make this work. All schools making the transition up to Division I must pay an entrance fee, estimated at about $1.75 million as calculated based on year-to-year revenue sharing models for current D-I programs, according to the Courier and Press.

The university may well have the money to handle this up front (it indicated in its press release that it already had donations totaling roughly $1.5 million) but with the increased scholarship requirements at the D-I level, the real chore will be nearly doubling its yearly athletic budget moving forward from about $6.6 million to $12 million. The Courier and Press and other outlets speculate that this would likely involve increasing yearly donation inflows student fees. One proposition involves gradually increasing fees by $476 per year by the end of their four-year transition.

Speaking of students, it’s worth noting that in polls conducted by the exploratory committee, the student body segment was not in favor of the move. As a matter of fact, not one segment had more respondents in favor of the move compared to those against it. Only among student athletes did respondents voting yes even equal those voting no.

(Tell us how you really feel, Faculty and Retirees. Lame.)

In any case, with the unanimous board approval, USI has indicated on its website that it plans on playing in D-I this upcoming fall. Doing so would require it to gain acceptance into a conference and then file a formal application to the NCAA before a June 1 deadline.

USI did not name any conferences in its official releases or press conference; however, conference realignment guru and former Mid-Major Madness czar Matt Brown appears very confident that the Screaming Eagles will join the Ohio Valley Conference. (We would not suggest doubting him). As of now, the OVC is down to eight confirmed members next year and could use another member, although USI’s lack of a football team would leave football playing members at only five. Other conferences mentioned have included the Horizon League and the ASUN.

As NMTC fans are well aware, and frustratingly so, there is a four-year transitional period for any school that moves to Division I, during which the athletics programs cannot compete in any NCAA-sponsored postseason event, such as the NCAA tournament or NIT, but can compete in other events like the CIT or CBI.

USI may be able to participate in conference tournaments during that time, depending on which conference the Screaming Eagles join. Should the Screaming Eagles go to the OVC, they likely would not be able to participate in basketball conference tournaments, according to a previous precedent set with SIU-Edwardsville in the early 2010s; the ASUN, contrarily, has been letting its new D-I members play.

It will be interesting to see if they can match the immediate success of teams like Merrimack, Northern Kentucky and Bellarmine, the latter two of which also came out of the GLVC.

So, we await the conference announcement later this week. Until then, welcome to the Club, USI.