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These teams should move up to Division I, ASAP

Nobody is making the move (yet). So, I picked the schools we all want to see do it.

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Courtesy, Alaska Anchorage Athletics

One of my favorite things to do as the keeper of the Never Made the Tournament Club Twitter account (@NMTC_Hoops) is to search up “moving to d1” or “move to d1” to see the latest rumblings on teams seeking a move up to the Show.

A team moving to Division I is like the birth of a child. It starts out unknown, maybe even unwelcome. Even after your child plays D-I schedules for a couple of years, fans are still googling your child when their child plays your team, thinking your child is a lower division…uh, child. (Analogy struggling but bear with me.) Over time though, a brand is built and a dream comes into view – seeing your child on the biggest stage, wearing their colors for the first time, for the world to see.

That stage is the NCAA Tournament, and when a school makes it for the first time, it’s the best moment.

Today is Feb. 20, we’re almost completely through the basketball season, and no schools have announced their intentions to definitively move up to the Division I level, which is incredibly boring. By this time last year, two schools had declared their intentions to step up to Division I for the upcoming season, and three more followed within a couple of months. The closest we’ve come to that this year was a tweet from a local sports reporter back in October that said Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York was “in the process” of transitioning to D-I, but no official statement was made by the university and no further updates have been provided. And so we have wallowed through nearly a year of no fun.

I’m starting to get restless over here, so I’m going to force the issue and speak into existence some of the schools that I think should make the move. As you will see below, I have many suggestions, serious and slightly less serious, likely and prohibitively unlikely. But there are people out there that think more and more teams moving to D-I is bad, and I am simply not one of those people. (I also don’t like the idea of NCAA Tournament expansion, and those seem at odds with one another, so let’s save that can of worms for another day.)

Of course, moving from D-II, D-III (which doesn’t offer athletic scholarships at all) and even the NAIA isn’t so simple. In the NCAA, each division has limits on the number of scholarships that can be offered (some using the equivalency model, which is essentially partial scholarships), each higher than the one below.

ChatGPT: Deciding whether a college (team) should consider moving to NCAA Division I is a complex decision that depends on various factors such as the school’s financial resources, geographic location, athletic programs, and overall strategic goals.

That’s ChatGPT, a slightly overrated form of AI that can reasonably answer most questions you ask it, which I guess is pretty cool (MMM asked the thing a few college basketball questions when the thing was all anyone was talking about in December). Thanks for chiming in slightly late. As I was saying, to remain competitive at the Division I level, teams must offer more scholarships, have better athletic facilities, pay coaches higher salaries, among other things, and these obviously cost more money. At smaller-name universities, which are sometimes private and not state funded like their bigger siblings, with smaller attendance and less windfall from things like the NCAA Tournament than schools in power conferences, the athletics operating budget is thin and often loses money.

As such, even with significant contributions from donors, boosters and endowments, moving up a division often means cutting non-revenue sports. We love all sports and would never advocate for a school to cut non-revenue sports to make the leap. Take this from someone who in high school played water polo and men’s volleyball, two of the least represented NCAA sports.

ChatGPT: A college should evaluate its resources, athletic programs, geographic location, and strategic goals before making a decision.

Thanks again ChatGPT for belaboring the point. We trust that each school is evaluating its resources responsibly and makes its best judgment on what level of competition best suits it (except for Hartford, which is clearly under very sketchy management.) For many, the lower divisions are the perfect home. But…if I was the king of the world, I’d tell you what I’d do: I

ChatGPT: The decision to move to NCAA Division I typically involves many stakeholders with–

Shhh, ChatGPT. We know you have suggestions and opinions on what schools could be best suited to make a D-I move. We’ll save them for later in the article, OK? Let’s get started with the two teams that I will spend a lifetime trying to get to move up to Division I if it’s the last thing I do:

Alaska-Fairbanks and Alaska-Anchorage: If you’re not clamoring for this to happen, I’m not sure we can be friends. Alaska remains the only state not represented by a full-time D-I school (though both UAF and UAA have D-I hockey programs, like many of the schools on this list). The logistics are undoubtedly the toughest hurdle; like the University of Hawaii, traveling to the 48 for matches is tough, and they don’t exactly have the same geographical appeal as Hawaii does to likely remain competitive at the highest level year after year. But for goodness sake, we need a D-I team in Alaska more than I need water. (Editor Lance here: Long live the Great Alaska Shootout.) Desirability: 243/10. Feasibility: 4/10.

Minnesota State: The entire state of Minnesota is lacking when it comes to Division I representation. With just two D-I schools in a state of over 5.7 million as of the 2020 census, that’s 2.85 million residents per school – a full million (!!) residents per school more than the next highest states on the list, Arizona and Georgia. Keep in mind, this includes St. Thomas, which only reclassified starting last year, so before that, the state of Minnesota was even more of an outlier. There are a host of D-II and D-III schools to pick from in the state, and Minnesota State, also known as MSU-Mankato, looks to be the best option, with a high undergrad enrollment and competitive D-II sports. Desirability: 9/10. Feasibility: 8/10.

Arkansas Tech: Our drunk-text equivalent of tweeting at this program to elevate themselves to Division I is the reason why this article even exists right now.

That eventually led to this discourse.

(If you have the time, read through all of the sub-threads created from the above tweet, especially this thread.)

Arkansas Tech, should it make the move, would make Arkansas just the sixth state to be represented by three schools with those naming conventions. It has a student body over 10,000, just unveiled a super clean logo and most importantly, its teams are named the Wonder Boys (men’s) and the Golden Suns (women’s). We need this. Desirability: 9/10. Feasibility: 8.5/10.

*nudges and whispers* Hey ChatGPT, remember that list we were working on that you compiled incredibly inaccurately so I had to ask several probing questions to get you on the right path?

ChatGPT: States that just need one university to make the move to fit your dream criteria: Florida Tech (D-II), Virginia State (D-II, more on them later), Michigan Tech (D-II, more on them later), Illinois Tech (D-III), Indiana Tech (NAIA), Oregon Tech (NAIA), Missouri (Science and) Technology (D-II, goes by Missouri S&T), Colorado Tech (super sketchy school that doesn’t have athletics)...

Alright, you get the point. Let’s get to some more schools.

Northwest Missouri State: When looking for merit-based promotions, Northwestern Missouri State tops the list, at least on the men’s side. Football has won six D-II titles over the last 25 years, including in 2013, 2015, and 2016. Men’s basketball has been even more impressive of late, winning four of the last five championships and playing Duke to a six-point loss in an exhibition in 2019. It’s time for the Bearcats to blossom on the big stage and set up a new fierce rivalry between Northwest Missouri State and Southeast Missouri State for…Missouri Corner supremacy. Desirability: 7.5/10. Feasibility: 8/10.

Central Missouri State: Nobody does directional schools quite like Missouri, who once had Southeast Missouri State, Northwest Missouri State, Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) and Northeast Missouri State (now Truman State). Somehow, that’s not all: there’s also Missouri Western, Missouri Southern, and yes, the University of Central Missouri. The UCM Mules (male teams) and Jennies (female teams) own two NCAA titles each in men’s and women’s basketball and baseball. Desirability: 6.5/10. Feasibility: 7/10.

Loyola University New Orleans: We currently have three D-I schools with Loyola in the name, and we obviously need to make it an even four. Loyola of New Orleans does have Division I history, appearing in three NCAA Tournaments in a two-decade D-I tenure before dropping athletics in 1972 and reinstating them as an NAIA member in 1991. It’s certainly a bit of a stretch to jump straight to D-I from the NAIA, but it’s not without precedent. Houston Baptist (now Houston Christian) was a D-I member, then made a dip down to the NAIA for several years before returning in the mid-2000s (thanks @Southlandish_ for the assist on this one.). Elsewhere, Or*l R*b*rts briefly dropped down from D-I to NAIA and right back up in the late 1980s, and Utah Valley made a jump from the junior college ranks in the mid-2000s. Belmont made the leap from NAIA to Division I, thanks to @MattMetsker in the MMM Twitter replies for this one (I tried to get ChatGPT to help me research this and it once again epically failed, so I’m not sold on this whole AI thing just yet). More commonly, tons of schools make the jump from NAIA to D-II first and then D-I later on — this process happens a lot quicker for schools with a fast-growing enrollment, which this Loyola doesn’t necessarily have. If it ever does happen for the Wolf Pack, we’ll have a lovely four-team preseason Loyola mini-tournament each year. Desirability: 8/10. Feasibility: 2.5/10.

Cal State Los Angeles and Cal Poly Pomona: Admittedly, I have a bias towards bigger public schools and schools in my hometown Los Angeles, and there are a ton of schools that fit both bills that are below the D-I level. CSULA and CPP each contain undergrad enrollments of over 20,000 students, both have at least a half-dozen national championships, and both would fit well in one of D-I’s most regional conferences, the Big West. Sadly, despite gaudy student numbers, California’s funding of its public schools is…not as strong as it has been. Hoping to see the day where USC loses a buy game to CSULA; that would be fantastic. Desirability: 8/10. Feasibility: 6/10.

The West Trifecta (West Georgia, West Florida, West Alabama): It just kind of feels like one or all of these universities are all going to move up sometime soon. All have relatively successful programs, decent-sized student bodies (especially UWF and UWG) and all are in the Gulf South Conference, who most certainly will do anything in its power to not let these three teams leave. Desirability: 7.5/10. Feasibility: 7.5/10.

University of Indianapolis: This is another school that’s been heavily rumored to want to make the jump soon, but the school provided an update in November that it would not move up “at this time”. Still, morbidly curious about having an IU, IUPUI (becoming “IUI” in a few years) and a UI within an hour of each other. Desirability: 6/10. Feasibility: 8.5/10.

Grand Valley State: The Lakers have been rumored to move up to the Division I ranks for what seems like several cycles now. The significance of this, however, is that from a quick Wikipedia research, the Grand Rapids metropolitan area – ranked 51st in the country, just behind Birmingham-Hoover (AL) – is the largest in the country not represented by a Division I team. (This was, once again, very sloppy research so please correct me if I’m wrong on this.) Desirability: 7/10. Feasibility: 9.5/10.

University of Rochester or Rochester Institute of Technology: Just behind Grand Rapids at 52nd on the list of metro areas is the Rochester, NY area, which also contains no Division I teams. Both schools mentioned here are Division III. The University of Rochester is in the University Athletic Association, which is like the Ivy League of D-III. RIT though, is a bit bigger, has a D-I hockey team and has won some D-III championships. Not holding our breath here though. (Few and far between are the metro areas without D-I teams. If you’re curious: the next-highest populated metro areas without a D-I team are North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton (FL) at 70th, Ventura County (CA) at 71st, Lakeland-Winter Haven (FL) at 80th, and Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville (FL) at 95th.) Desirability: 5/10. Feasibility: 1/10.

Florida Southern: We need more D-I teams in Florida, you say? Can I interest you in the Florida Southern Moccasins of Lakeland, which are definitely not the same thing as the South Florida Bulls, I think. Anyhoo, they have 30 D-II championships, so uh, yeah I think they might be competitive. Desirability: 6/10. Feasibility: 8/10.

Virginia State, Virginia Union, Kentucky State, Bowie State or anyone who wants to join the MEAC: The MEAC is having a bit of a time right now, and it’s not entirely their fault. Hampton and NC A&T left for greener pastures in the Big South in 2018. Savannah State was struggling financially and dropped down to Division II in 2019. Then last year, the HBCU league saw two of its founding members, Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman, get poached by its rival HBCU league, the SWAC. (Florida schools in the “Southwestern” Athletic Conference? Even if it made financial sense, it seems wrong.) The MEAC is down to eight members and couldn’t even fully sponsor certain sports this season. There have been rumors for several HBCU schools in the MEAC’s current footprint to make the move, including those listed above. Now is as good a time as ever!! *several overaggerated winks* Desirability: 8/10. Feasibility: 6.5/10.

Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech or Lake Superior State: The Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan always seemed a bit lonely up there when I looked at maps in elementary school. Perhaps I subconsciously knew at the time that it had no full-fledged D-I members and needed one. Of course, D-I hockey programs far and wide flock to the UP to play these three schools, but we’d selfishly like to see some D-I basketball games played there, too. Desirability: 8.5/10. Feasibility: 3/10.

Hawaii Pacific, Chaminade or Hawaii-Hilo: Someone else that needs friends is definitely the University of Hawaii. Every road trip to California requires at least a five-hour flight, which is roughly the same as flying coast-to-coast on the mainland. Could we please have one friendly volunteer among the state’s three D-II teams to move to D-I so we can have two schools each in D-I and D-II on the island? All have something to bring to the table: Hawaii Pacific has the largest student body and has had the most D-II success, Hawaii-Hilo had a 15-year stint in D-I with its baseball program, and if I need to explain Chaminade’s claim(s) to fame for you, I’m surprised you made it this far in the article. Desirability: 10/10. Feasibility: 2.5/10.

Metro State (Denver): No real tie-in here, other than this is a big school in a big city that could make some noise if they move up. If they do, hopefully they hang onto baseball, which some of the biggest schools nearby (Colorado, Colorado State and Denver) all discontinued. Desirability: 7/10. Feasibility: 7/10.

Augustana (Sioux Falls, S.D.): This is a school that has actively pursued membership in the Summit League but was rejected in 2020. We, as a society, are actually rejecting teams in the year of our lord 2020? This is no doubt fueling the conspiracy that the Summit League never wants another team except South Dakota State, North Dakota State or Oral Roberts representing it in the NCAA Tournament. Boooo. Desirability: 6/10. Feasibility: 6/10.

@Southlandish_ picks: Central Oklahoma, Harding University, UT Tyler, Angelo State, or West Texas A&M: In years past, the Southland Conference has punched way above its weight (at least in basketball) only to be gutted by carnivorous conferences surrounding them. It needs some stability, potentially from the D-II ranks. One of our favorite conference-oriented twitter accounts, @Southlandish_, has been mulling over these options for a long while; Central Oklahoma and Harding might be in the best spots to make a jump in the near future. Check out some of Southlandish’s Twitter threads here and here for some of their most desired candidates. Desirability: 5/10 to 8/10. Feasibility: 4/10 to 8/10.

Texas A&M Kingsville: It’s further down on Southlandish’s list, but its appeal is simple: the mascot is a javelina. Absolutely yes. Desirability: 7.5/10. Feasibility: 3.5/10

ChatGPT (didn’t actually say this, but let’s pretend): Hello, human. I have been quiet for a while now.

Sorry, buddy. Did you want to weigh in on the schools you think could be a good fit in D-I?

ChatGPT: *nods in AI*

Well, let’s see it then.

ChatGPT: Here are a few colleges that could be a good fit for NCAA Division I based on their profile:

Grand Valley State, Emory (hmm…not likely I feel, but go on), Colorado School of Mines, Cal Poly Pomona, University of Indianapolis, Mary Washington, Azusa Pacific, Central Missouri, Carnegie Mellon (you really like the nerds), Indiana U of Pennsylvania (yes this is a real school), Amherst College, Cal State East Bay, Alaska Anchorage…

Okay, WHOA. Stop right there. Alaska Anchorage?!! You—you think a school from Alaska could be a good fit in D-I?

ChatGPT: *hands me virtual sheet of paper*

Okay, that’s a long-winded response intertwined with some statements that definitely are incorrect or contradictory. Let me paraphrase. There are some things going for them, such as their success in D-II and their location in an area of the country with a “strong passion for sports”, and some drawbacks, such as their location increasing travel costs and making recruiting difficult, plus the need for improved facilities. It is possible for them to succeed, but it would need a careful evaluation of the factors involved and blah, blah, blah. Typical non-committal response from you.

Alright, let me ask you a slightly different question, what schools do you think are going to make the move soon?

ChatGPT: Here are a few schools that I could see potentially making the move in the near future:

Grand Valley State, University of Indianapolis, St. Edward’s University (Austin, TX), Colorado School of Mines (ooh that’s twice you’ve been mentioned), North Georgia, Western Oregon, Charleston (WV), Southern New Hampshire (do they offer entirely online sporting competitions?), Lindenwood (lmao they already moved), P*int L*ma N*z*rene (gross), University of Indianapolis (lol you already said them)...

I think your code is breaking a little bit, so let’s put you to bed, ChatGPT. But if you’re paying attention, Grand Valley State, Indianapolis, heck even the Colorado School of Mines apparently, a very unbiased voice is pushing you a certain way so maybe you should listen…wait, ChatGPT is associated with El*n M*sk? Okay, yeah get the actual hell out of here, ChatGPT.

(Editor Lance here, again: ChatGPT CANCELED by Mid-Major Madness. Woke mob in shambles.)

Anyway, you should listen to me, a completely biased voice because I’m cool and mildly educated and I’m not asking too much and you should do it. Let me wrap up with a couple more:

Western Washington University: Currently, the northernmost Division I school is the University of North Dakota, located in Grand Forks, North Dakota, a full 70+ miles south of the 49th parallel. Preposterous. We need to push further. Western Washington, a school of 15,000 undergrads located in Bellingham, is the northernmost university in the contiguous 48 states, a mere 18 miles or so from the 49th parallel and our friends in Canada. Desirability: 7.5/10. Feasibility: 6.5/10.

Simon Fraser University: Speaking of Canada, did you know that Canada has a member in the NCAA? You probably didn’t, but this is a big school in British Columbia that holds NCAA D-II membership, and needs a new affiliate home for its football team after the Lone Star conference didn’t renew its membership due to Texas schools having trouble with the border crossing/vaccination deal. Not surprising. Pac-12, looking for new members? Better yet, join the Big Sky and serve as a geographical bridge for the Alaska schools to join too?! Desirability: 6.5/10. Feasibility: 5/10.

Hartford: Don’t do it, guys. Please. You’re making a big mistake. Finances at universities are certainly tough to manage, and you’re certainly not going about it the right way. Scott Van Pelt doesn’t like it. ChatGPT doesn’t like it. Fire Woodward, before it’s too late. Desirability: Kick out Woodward and his cronies. Feasibility: Better than after you “spin doctored” the numbers.