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Oklahoma City University returns to NCAA DI

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Maybe this is to try and make the alumni forget about the nickname/mascot change.

Marc

OCU to move to NCAA Division I

By Scott Wright

Oklahoma City University will pursue membership in the NCAA's Division I level, the school's president and athletic director said this morning.

OCU President Tom McDaniel and Athletic Director Jim Abbott said they expect the process of developing and executing a plan to prepare the school's athletic programs for competition at the highest collegiate level will take several months.

The university, in conjunction with the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, commissioned a study of the feasibility of the move from the NAIA, which OCU has competed in since 1985.

The study was performed by a five-member committee from Carr Sports Associates Inc. and included current and former athletic directors from NCAA Division I institutions. It lasted nearly five months and was sent to OCU last week.

The study lays out an eight-step plan to prepare OCU for advancing to the NCAA.

"Our plan is to proceed with those eight steps," McDaniel said. "We're not necessarily surprised by the report. We knew there were things that we'd need to do in terms of personnel, facilities and money that would be required to position us for a successful application.

"I'm excited about the fact that we now we have an outside consulting firm outlining for us what those are.

The yearly deadline for applying for NCAA membership is June 1. McDaniel does not see the school making the necessary additions to facilities, staffing and endowments in time for the 2007 deadline, meaning the earliest the transition could be made would be the 2008-09 academic year.

The NCAA requires one exploratory year followed by six provisional membership years. During those seven years, OCU athletic programs would not be eligible to participate in NCAA postseason competition.

OCU would have to increase to the NCAA-required 14 team sports, of which the school currently has 10. Heading the list of viable options are track and field, cross country and tennis, McDaniel said.

The study says affiliation with a conference would be extremely important, especially during the provisional membership period.

While there are logical geographic reasons for OCU to pursue certain conferences, McDaniel said they have not had any formal discussions regarding membership.

"You could not survive in the NCAA unless you're a member of a conference, McDaniel said. "I'm not saying Notre Dame can't, but an entering school like us, to be able to schedule, would be difficult.

"We have not done anything to even stick our toe in the water about that, so that's something we'd have to think about how we'd do it.

OCU move more about image

By Berry Tramel

Oklahoma City University plans to go NCAA Division I, and it's a vanity move pure and simple. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Vanity is why cities, OKC included, want to go major-league. Chasing the Hornets or any other franchise is not financially prudent, but entering such a group is not about money. It's about image and profile and letting America know that Oklahoma City is a happenin' place.

OCU going Division I and joining the Southland or the Mid-Continent or some such league will not raise the city's status, but it will raise the school's. Oklahoma City once was a college basketball name, back in the Abe Lemons days, and could be again, thanks to the magic of the NCAA Tournament.

Bucknell, anyone? Valpo?

The folks at OCU have sat in their offices over at 23rd and Blackwelder and watched two little institutions come to Oklahoma City for NCAA regionals and grab Cinderella's slipper. Valparaiso in 1998 and Bucknell in 2005 were the toasts of America for a couple of days.

Why them and not us? That's a powerful motivator. You can't buy publicity like that no matter how many NAIA titles you win. Make no mistake, the NCAA Tournament, which offers that sliver of hope that even the little guy can grab a moment in the sun, is driving OCU's NCAA intentions.

Going D-I will cost OCU a bundle -- adding sports, improving facilities, increased travel -- but the Stars could reap gains on a variety of public-relation fronts.

Aside from the NCAA Tournament, Division I status offers plums such as recognition from ESPN, which scrolls the D-I scores across its screen non-stop every night. "Anytime your university is getting that type of exposure, it's good," said OCU men's basketball coach Ray Harper.

There is no reason why OSU and OU can't make some room on their schedules for Oklahoma City U. Coaches often get petty over this -- OSU basketball hasn't played Tulsa or Oral Roberts in years, though Sean Sutton said he's open to returning TU to the schedule, and the Sooners renewed those rivalries only in recent years.

OCU has been a solid foe in baseball even in the NAIA, so that could make for some interesting games. And the Stars just added wrestling, a sport in which they could be nationally competitive as soon as they are eligible.

Why more state schools don't add wrestling, I have no idea. Maintenance costs are slight compared to, say, baseball, and Oklahoma produces a batch of great wrestlers who have few college options. Prediction: OCU's first NCAA impact will come on the wrestling mat.

The downside to OCU's move is the perhaps eight-year wait for full NCAA status. Not even today's eighth-graders will still be around to compete in an NCAA championship for OCU. That's a big delay for coaches who sell kids on striving for the mountain. But with patience, it could pay off.

"Do I think we can be successful at that level? Absolutely," said Harper.

By all accounts, Oklahoma City University is a wonderful school. But not everyone knows that. University presidents like to say that sports are the front porch of a campus; that's how many people are introduced to the school.

Division I can do that better than the NAIA. It will cost OCU money. Lots of money. The upper echelon of NCAA sports are about money. Not the lower. The smaller schools are in Division I for prestige. That's what OCU desires.

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I saw OCU play in the NAIA basketball National Tournament this year and they looked real good, killing Columbia College of Missouri on their way to the final game.

I don't really have much to add.

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The big question is which conference they should be in. The Mid-Continetal and the Missouri Valley conferences look like the most probable, since OCU doesn't have football.

I hope OCU does well. It's not every day a NAIA school becomes a NCAA Division I school.

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Quick clarification... OCU is going back to NCAA D1. They used to be quite the mid-major hoops power back in the 60's (+/- a decade) under Abe Lemons, and were a Sweet 16 team at least once. The university really suffered financially in the early 80's, however, and they went NAIA in 1985.

Marc

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I'd certainly welcome this move. As Marc suggested, I am an OCU alum (J.D., 1993) and can vouch for the fact that OCU should pursue D-1 status. Granted, they're never going to have the kind of sports footprint that nearby OU has, but they could certainly make their mark in sports like baseball, soccer and wrestling if they choose their conference carefully. As far as basketball goes, one of their claims to NAIA success, at least when I was going there when they won 2 NAIA titles, was that they could pick up good players who lost their NCAA eligibility. Clearly that hook will be gone when they move up to the bigs, but the school should be able to put together a hoops administration that can start the building process and get OCU up to D-1 caliber during the 7-8 year run-up cycle. And I think that the school should pursue MVC membership. MSU and Wichita State would be great regional rivals. I'm going to be most interested to see how this all shakes out.

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