The University of North Alabama announced they would begin the six-year transition process of moving their athletic program from NCAA Division II to Division I this season.
UNA has been a dominant program in D-II for the last 40 years. With six national championships—three in football, two in basketball and one in volleyball—the Lions have had more success than most schools. Add their numerous Gulf South Conference titles and you have a stellar athletic program that is the pride of the Tennessee Valley, perhaps of Alabama or even the South. But even in the sports crazed South the move from Division II to Division I just doesn't seem to make sense.
Reason 1: Alabama is already home to 10 Division I athletics programs. Recruiting just got a lot more difficult, competitive and expensive. Convincing parents across the nation to send their child to Alabama or Auburn, easy. Convincing them to come to North Alabama, much more difficult. You're also looking at recruiting in a much greater area to secure the level of talent required to compete at the Division I level. Lastly, UNA currently has 47 D-I transfers on its roster, and accounts for a great deal of their most talented players. Transferring from D-I to D-II is easy. Moving from FBS to FCS, much more difficult.
Reason 2: UNA currently offers six men's and six women's sports. Division I requires seven for each sex. The sports most likely to be added are women's golf and men's rifle. Women's golf already has nearly 1,000 unused scholarships annually across the US. Adding a sport that other schools already have a hard time recruiting athletes to play just doesn't seem like a good idea.
Reason 3: This might be the biggest reason of all—money, money, and more money. The extra, and expanded, team travel. The mode of travel. UNA can put the football team on buses and road trip to their current conference rivals. That simply can't be done in the Ohio Valley Conference. Recruiting is more expensive with the additional area needed to be covered. Coaches salaries will be exorbitantly higher in Division I; the average head football coach's salary in D-II is $75,000 while the average salary in D-I is $1.3 million. Add to that the increased facility requirements and UNA isn't just making a big jump, it's a quantum leap.
The loss of long-time Division II rivals like West Alabama, Delta State and Valdosta State may, in time, be replaced by new ones in Division I. But it will take much longer and a lot more money to take the Lions to the level of athletic success in Division I that they have enjoyed over the last 40 years in Division II.