Speculation has been swirling this semester about the Wildcats making a jump from Division II to Division I-AA. The jump from Div. II to Div. I-FCS entails much more than many people realize.
Three weeks ago Athletic Director Jared Mosley presented the advantages and disadvantages of ACU making a jump in divisions.
For one, ACU Athletics would be taking on a significantly increased financial burden. The cost of operating a Div. I program as opposed to a Div. II program can literally be as high as millions of dollars more per year.
Coaches would need to be compensated for holding Div. I instead of Div. II jobs, travel expenses would have to be assessed with the possibility of some rising costs and scholarships would be increased per NCAA regulations.
Scholarships represent far and away the largest increase in money committed to the athletics program. In football alone, ACU would be looking at an increase from 36 full scholarships to 63 full scholarships. With ACU’s cost of attendance at $31,544 per academic year, there would be more than $800,000 per year needed to cover the scholarship increase. It is important to remember, however, that ACU does not have to award all 63 scholarships, nor would a full scholarship in the NCAA’s eyes have to cover all $31,544. But it would be a significant increase nonetheless.
“Scholarships are the biggest financial increase because of the increased number of scholarships you have,” Mosley said.
To help offset the cost of these financial burdens, ACU would have the benefit of revenue sharing from within whatever conference it might join. Revenue sharing comes from a variety of different sources, partly the NCAA and partly media rights sold by the conferences that are then divided among the schools according to the revenue contract set forth by the individual conference.
Another way to help offset the cost of a higher operating budget is guaranteed games. Moving to Div. I-FCS means that Div. I-FBS opponents would be able to schedule ACU for non-conference games. The best example of this is football. This season, Florida Atlantic University received $900,000 to travel to Austin and play a game against the Longhorns. All told, the Owls netted $1.2 million in guaranteed money for two games.
Aside from the increased financial burden on the university, the Wildcats would be on an entirely different plane of competition. ACU competes near the top of Div. II yearly in many sports, including football, track, volleyball, baseball and others, but with the jump it would be much tougher to remain that competitive in an increased pool of talent and institutions.
Another downside, at least initially, would be the moratorium on championships. There is a five-year transition period in which no ACU team would be allowed to compete for a conference championship or advance to any sort of postseason play.
Although the prospect of playing at the University of Texas or at Kyle Field sounds very appealing, the reality is those games don’t come that often for freshly-minted Div. I members. The Wildcats’ ability to compete nationally in many sports every year is what should determine the future of ACU athletics.