MSU Denver Eyes Shot at Division I with Assistance from Collegiate Consulting

MSU Met Media by James Burky

DENVER (November 5, 2018) – The MSU Denver Athletics department began a feasibility study of transitioning into Division I competition through focus groups on Oct. 29 and 30.

For 35 years, MSU Denver has competed under the NCAA Division II umbrella and, since 1996, has been a marquee member of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Since 1998, the Roadrunners have won 35 conference tournaments across all sports and four team national championships. Over the summer, the Western Athletic Conference reached out to MSU Denver, encouraging the school to study the prospects of moving divisions.

“We are a proud member of NCAA Division II, however it is always in the best interest of an institution to do its due diligence when an overture such as this one comes,” said Anthony Grant, director of athletics, via a statement on the department’s website.

The initial phase of the transition is conducting a feasibility study. That’s where Collegiate Consultants enters the picture. Russell Wright, a managing director for the firm, visited the campus for the first time Monday to get the ball rolling on the decision-making process, one that he expects will take between 18-24 months.

“We’re not going to benchmark you toward the bottom third of the WAC. You have to be benchmarked for success,” Wright told a conference room of three students and six department staff members. “Based on the history here, and the mindset here is, ‘Hey, we are a strong athletic institution, we are gonna win.’ That is going to be the mindset we have as we put this together.”

 Wright said that MSU Denver’s student population, urban location and the Regency Athletic Complex are strong selling points for the school.

 The WAC has been expanding membership in the aftermath of a massive NCAA realignment that led to the conference losing 12 schools — including the University of Denver — and forced their hand to drop football after 51 years. Of the WAC’s nine members, seven were added in 2013 and just one — New Mexico State University — was a member before the decade began.

MSU Denver was one of many institutions that the WAC reached out to over the summer. Should MSU Denver join, it would give the conference their first member in the same state as their Englewood headquarters.

However, the transition process is difficult. A number of caveats exist for any prospective school, and MSU Denver is no different.

For a program to transition, they must pay application fees to both the conference they’re joining and the NCAA. The WAC charges $750,000 for application, though that could dropped, while the NCAA’s Division I fee is $1.6 million. A part of that payment comes through student tuition. Wright referenced his experience working with Southern Illinois University Edwardsville when the school was transitioning to Division I. In Division II, Edwardsville tuition included $50 for athletics. After the jump, the required payment increased to $185 a semester — about a 270 percent increase.

Wright assured that Edwardsville was purely anecdotal, and in the context of the feasibility study, he’ll be using anywhere between $75-125 as an expected fee increase. In fall 2018, MSU Denver students’ athletics fee was $39.20. Assuming any number between Wright’s ballpark would be used for a potential transition, students could see, based on Edwardsville’s numbers, a 91-219 percent increase.

Such a thought worries a population that the school prides itself in serving — the nontraditional student.

“Metro has formed itself as a place for everyone to come, and maybe a move might not make it available for everyone,” said David Andy, a 29-year-old student who also works as an assistant for the Budget and Finance Department and is a member of the Student Government Assembly. “What does it actually mean, dollars and cents wise, for those students that are tracking $100 dollars a semester, or $400 dollars a semester? Times interest on your loans, how much is that going to set the average student back?”

The issue of disenfranchising a key demographic to MSU Denver is glaring.

Wright seemed to acknowledge Andy’s concern, and noted that two other aspects could put the school at a recruiting disadvantage — a lack of on- campus student housing and the state of the Auraria Event Center.

In August, the Faculty Senate discussed building a student housing facility on Elitch Gardens’ property when the amusement park moves in coming years. Regency Student Housing is a sponsor of MSU Denver Athletics, but the hotel-turned-student living facility is two miles from the Tivoli. Google maps estimates a 48 minute walk between the two, and direct shuttles stop running at 6:53 p.m. on Mondays- Thursdays and Friday at 12:23 p.m.

Meanwhile, the Auraria Event Center is an aging 42-year-old facility that seats just 2,200.

According to the NCAA, an eight-team WAC averaged 3,575 attendees per basketball game is 2018, 12th among the 32 Division I conferences. The gym also holds numerous stakeholders, hosting intramural events, club activities and three varsity sports, as well as representatives from CCD and CU Denver being on the board. Most Division I schools don’t share their facilities to such an extent. Wright assured that neither would prevent MSU Denver from transitioning, but that the disadvantage is clear.

Two things are needed for a school to make the jump to Division I: an invitation and funds. MSU Denver is on its way to achieving the former. The feasibility study results will come later in 2018 will provide a clearer answer to how possible the latter is. If the prospects are good, the school could move forward. Down the road, a student referendum will need to be held as a final step before making the change.

Russell Wright