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NCCU take flight into Division I

Category: Featured News, MEAC Expansion & Realignment

As with many break-ups, the final step in N.C. Central’s split with the CIAA came with a phone call Wednesday.

The Durham school had already submitted its strategic plan to the NCAA for its planned leap to Division I play and had been operating under those rules since June 1. All that was left was the call to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, formally notifying the Division II conference of historically black schools to finalize its departure

Saturday marked N.C. Central’s final day in the CIAA, signaling the impending start of a five-year reclassification process required by the NCAA.

“This university is going to grow, so our objective all along has been to keep pace with the university’s growth,” NCCU athletics director Bill Hayes said. “Needless to say, we’re very excited about the move.”

This fall will mark N.C. Central’s first season in D-I play, and the 14 men and women’s teams in the Eagles’ athletics program will start out competing as independents, without a conference affiliation. Central hopes to join the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and is awaiting confirmation from the historically black D-I league.

Ramping up to Division I competition has kept NCCU coaches and athletics administrators busy behind the scenes. N.C. Central coaches, for example, recently had to take the NCAA’s D-I recruiting test to show that they are familiar with the different restrictions from those handed D-II coaches.

For the staff of new football coach Mose Rison, who has assistant coaching experience already at the D-I level from Arizona, Stanford and elsewhere, that means no longer being able to invite recruits on campus for tryouts.

For about 15 N.C. Central student-athletes, it has meant taking extra summer courses to catch up to the stricter D-I academic requirements.

It also means more scholarships at the D-I level for a program whose budget is expected to jump from $2.4 million three years ago to about $6.5 million for the 2010-11 school year.

“You recruit much differently at this level,” Rison said of the costs of trying to restock a team that repeated as CIAA champions last fall and reached the second round of the D-II playoffs.

“You find yourself trying to reach out to a lot more kids, and so therefore there’s a lot more paperwork involved sending out brochures, feeding information to the student-athletes.”

Playing at the Div. I-AA level, Rison said the Eagles football team will play at least four “guarantee” games where opponents will pay N.C. Central for playing on the road. The Eagles will play six football games this year against D-II opponents, five against D-I opponents.

“Guarantee” games in football and basketball will help NCCU generate money to compete at the D-I level. It hopes to collect about $250,000 in guarantees this coming academic year, and as much as $450,000 in 2010-11, according to a consultant’s plan prepared for N.C. Central.

It also will increase the student athletic fee $70 — to $465 — to help fund the athletics department.

“It’s been a gradual increase,” said Ingrid Wicker-McCree, NCCU’s associate athletics director for internal operations. “We’re not trying to ride on the backs of our students.”

Hayes said he’s not concerned about his program’s ability to compete at the D-I level, this year or in the future.

“We’re quietly planning for 20, 30 years down the road,” he said.

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