The Division I train has left the station and now is not the time to try to stop it, University of North Alabama officials said during the Board of Trustees retreat Wednesday.
But not everyone was in agreement.
Trustee Libby Watts Jordan, who voted against the move in June, said she believes the June 2011 resolution to pursue taking UNA athletics to Division I had a one-year lifespan, and, the board would have to draft a new resolution if the university receives an invitation to a Division I athletics conference.
"I hope to continue to raise money so that we will be Division I ready at some point, but I am assuming we would have to have a complete new resolution if we decide to go D1 again," Jordan said. "My feelings have not changed.
"I still think the timing is totally off for this move to Division I."
Board President Steve Pierce said there was no such timeline and the community has showed support for the move, both financially and through enthusiasm for the progress.
"It is time for everyone to get on board," Pierce said. "The train is moving toward Division I. The community supports it and the majority of this board supports it."
Jordan's comments were spurred by discussions about progress made since the board passed the resolution, particularly in fundraising and conference affiliation.
She said it may be time for the university to focus on fundraising and put the actual move on the back burner.
"We should count our lucky stars the (Ohio Valley Conference) turned us down because we can continue to raise money and maybe in a few years be in a position to make the move and already have all these things in a row," she said.
Pierce said he does not support a timeline for a conference invitation.
"The benchmarks that were set in our June meeting last year, we have met the ones that we have control over," Pierce said. "We don't have any control over a conference invitation so, as far as the next steps, we are in a wait-and-see holding pattern."
That resolution called for five benchmarks to be met in the process — capping institutional spending for athletics at 4 percent, phasing in a student fee to support the move, collect community support for the move, raise $3 million for the move in pledges over a five-year period, and meet NCAA Division I membership requirements.
The membership requirements include adding two additional sports and having an invitation from a conference.
Athletic Director Mark Linder said the university has raised — in pledges or cash-in-hand — $3.1 million toward the move and have added the additional sports necessary for Division I status.
In cash-in-hand, $339,510 has been raised, university officials said. In-kind gifts for the remainder of the fiscal year total $117,042.
Pledged contributions for the next four years total about $2.65 million, Linder said.
"The landscape of Division I conferences is a turbulent and fluid situation right now," Linder said. "All we can do is be D1 ready, and I think we have accomplished that."
But Jordan, while saying she is proud of the fundraising thus far, is still unsure if the projected revenues and expenditures are accurate.
Linder said a survey of the top three athletic departments in the Ohio Valley Conference shows an average budget of $9 million. UNA budgets $5.8 million for athletics.
UNA President William Cale said the majority of funds would come from the state appropriation to the university, which accounts for approximately $4 million. He said a student fee would generate approximately $1.3 million a year, and money earned from playing top Division I programs would generate additional funds.
Jordan said she heard from conference officials that the amounts for game guarantees are exaggerated.
"When the OVC looked at us, when they turned us down, one of their concerns was they did not like our business plan we had set up ," Jordan said. "They said they thought it was going to cost us more than we thought and that the game guarantees were too much.
"We don't want to go into D1 and make this commitment if we can't be successful."
Projections from the athletic department show game guarantees generating $100,000 in year one in Division I, $300,00 in year two, $500,000 in year three, $800,000 in year four and $850,000 in the fifth year.
Linder said Jacksonville State University, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, will receive $1 million in football game guarantees next season.
Pierce said he has heard nothing about those concerns prior to the board retreat and it was his understanding the OVC's decision was based on the conference not wanting to extend an invitation to Northern Kentucky University, which was lumped into expansion plans with UNA.
Cale said he has heard the same concerns about the projected game guarantees from university presidents from the Ohio Valley Conference but was not a proponent of stopping UNA's move. He said while he has some anxiety about the move, it is becoming increasingly costly to remain in Division II. He added revenue generation is limited in the Division II level. He said the Gulf South Conference plans to pass in June a penalty fee for institutions leaving the conference. The Lions play in the Gulf South Conference.
"We need to make sure we are ready to accept an invitation when it comes because if we cannot, it could be the kiss of death," Cale said.
Joel Anderson, one of two recently appointed trustees, questioned the urgency of the move. He said he would like to examine the budget and the plan to be better informed.
"The big question in my mind has to do with the budget and economics," he said. "That's why I'd like to look at the budget, challenge it, look at what the students are saying, look at what the faculty are saying and look at what the coaches are saying."
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@Times Daily.com.