Mark Fischenich: Ask Us: Move up to Division I not in MSU's game plan

·4 min read

Jul. 31—Q: Within the next five years, what percentage would you put that MSU would move to Division I for ALL sports? (Keep in mind, St. Thomas enrollment is at almost a third of MSU and is now going DI, and MSU hockey is already DI.)

A: Ask Us Guy is going to go with 1%, only because 0% tends to be a somewhat risky choice when making predictions.

This question was one of five from a reader — all related to the possibility of Minnesota State University bumping up from its current Division II status in sports to Division I. With so many questions and a pretty complicated topic, Ask Us Guy was obligated to turn it into a double-header, with some of the answers this week and the rest in next Sunday's column.

For readers who aren't sports fans, Division I is the top tier of collegiate sports and features the highest profile events such as the March Madness basketball tournaments and the vast majority of college football bowl games. Division I features the biggest schools, the biggest stadiums, the biggest conferences and the biggest price tags for tickets, coaches' salaries and TV broadcast rights.

That's not to say that a school of MSU's size would be out of place as a Division I university. In many states, multiple schools compete at the DI level. In recent years, the four biggest state schools in the Dakotas have made the move. And all four have full-time undergraduate enrollments smaller than MSU's.

Some Division I schools, even some that field a football team, have just a fraction of MSU's overall enrollment of 14,546. Little Alcorn State in Mississippi, for instance, claims about 3,100 full and part-time students. Bethune-Cookman University in Florida and Holy Cross in Massachusetts are others with fewer than 4,000 students.

And as the reader noted, St. Thomas has joined the University of Minnesota as the state's only DI schools. The St. Paul university lists its enrollment as "more than 10,000," although other sources put its undergrad number at fewer than 7,000.

Other than the U and St. Thomas, the only DI teams now in Minnesota are the hockey programs at MSU, St. Cloud, Minnesota-Duluth and Bemidji State.

With that background, Ask Us Guy hands it over to MSU Athletics Director Kevin Buisman to tackle the reader's questions.

Buisman, who just celebrated his 20th anniversary as AD at MSU, said he understands why some fans see evidence that MSU could compete at a higher level.

"Maverick athletic teams are very successful. Our Division I men's and women's hockey programs have done very well, and it is not surprising to be asked whether the remaining programs should be moved to Division I also," Buisman said. "Ultimately, the answer to this question is driven by institutional strategy and decisions about how such a move could affect our athletes and programs."

He ran through a lengthy list of examples of the current approach working well, including the men's hockey team having the winningest program in the country in the last 10 years, six other Mavericks teams having Top 20 finishes nationally in DII in the past year, including a national championship in women's indoor track and field. The Mavericks also have won DII national championships in women's basketball in 2009 and softball in 2017.

Which isn't to say MSU has never considered the prospect of climbing up a rung.

"The university examined the possibility of moving all athletic programs to Division I at least twice in the last decade and each time determined that the current hybrid mix — with a highly competitive programs in both Divisions I and II — best served the university's overall mission, strategy, and students," he said.

He noted, too, that moving to DI is an "all or nothing" choice.

"The university can't move select sports 'a la carte' to the Division I level," Buisman said. "The only reason hockey is able to play in Division I is because there is no longer a championship for hockey offered at the Division II level."

Next week's Ask Us will include the AD's thoughts on some of the financial and travel challenges of competing in a Division I conference.

Contact Ask Us at The Free Press, 418 S. Second St., Mankato, MN 56001. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to mfischenich@mankatofreepress.com; put Ask Us in the subject line.