By Brance Arnold ’10 MA

It’s the proverbial work in progress. In recent months, much discussion has emerged about the University of the Incarnate Word actively pursuing a transition to NCAA’s Division I status and, more specifically, seeking an invitation to join the Southland Conference. UIW currently holds membership in Division II’s Lone Star Conference.

On Jan. 19, 2012, the university met with Southland Conference representatives, including their board of directors.

“Athletics Director Mark Papich explored the infrastructure requirements needed to go Division I last fall,” said Stacy Nordquist, UIW associate athletic director. “Utilizing the information Mr. Papich garnered, a group put together a proposal package that was presented to the Southland Conference.”

UIW President Dr. Louis Agnese led the presentation, emphasizing the benefits of UIW’s addition to the conference and answered questions from conference representatives.

According to Nordquist, the representatives will “disseminate” all information to the presidents of each academic institution belonging to the conference. Each president of the member universities has one vote to determine whether UIW will be offered an invitation into the conference.

“It is not certain exactly when the Southland Conference would contact UIW with a determination,” Nordquist said. “However, Southland Conference Commissioner Tom Burnett has stated that he would like to ‘move quickly.’ ”

If invited into the Southland Conference, the full transition to Division I will be a multi-year process. Nordquist explained that UIW will have to formally withdraw from the Lone Star Conference according to its bylaws and provide a notice of exit prior to Sept. 30 of this year if the university accepts an invitation into the Southland Conference.

The university would remain for the 2012-13 academic year in Division II’s Lone Star Conference and eligible for post-season play in Division II.

Wayne Witt, UIW’s sports information director, said for the first year, UIW would continue as Lone Star Conference for scheduling purposes and the following school year, UIW would assume a provisional membership into the Southland Conference at the Division I level.

“The 2013-14 academic year would also start the reclassification process with the NCAA,” Nordquist said. “The reclassification process takes four years, which means Incarnate Word would most likely achieve full eligibility for Division I in the 2017-18 academic year.”

UIW has taken specific actions to determine whether the transition to Division I is feasible. During a press conference held last December, Agnese stated that the process began in August when he met with student athletes and the coaching staff to discuss the movement. The next and first formal step involved an online student survey via Blackboard, that took place prior to Thanksgiving, to assess support for the change.

“The real first step was seeking the opinion of the populace, namely the students, with an online poll,” Witt said.

After the survey results were determined, Agnese met with the University Planning Commission and the Executive Council voted in favor of the move. Finally, a recommendation was made to the UIW Board of Trustees. At the December press conference, Agnese announced the Board of Trustees had voted to move forward with the transition process into Division I.

Moving to Division I would create changes for the university and the athletics program.

“In athletics, there will be a need to provide Division I services and amenities including the addition of athletic staff members and changes to athletic facilities,” Nordquist said. “The move will expand the university’s brand and make the institution better known outside the region.”

Changes for the university will extend beyond athletics. Several benefits listed in the proposal include an increase in admission standards; elevating the equity of student degrees; an increase in academic advising resources, and academic facilities, such as study areas and computer labs; improvements and renovations to other facilities; and an increase in state and federal funding for student financial assistance.

“I have heard nothing but positive comments about a proposed move to NCAA Division I,” said Nordquist. “UIW graduates will see the value of their degree enhanced with the move.”