The Utah Valley State College athletic department has faced many challenges since Mike Jacobsen became athletic director 19 years ago. But the biggest challenge for Jacobsen and the rest of the department is just starting.
Beginning next year, UVSC will make the jump from junior college athletics to NCAA Division I — a move that has never been attempted by a junior college.
The challenges that arise from making the move are plentiful. Scheduling, recruiting, no post-season play for six years, getting in a conference, new facilities, raising money are just several of the obstacles facing the Wolverine athletic program.
Despite the many challenges, discouragement is rare among administrators and coaches.
"We have too many good things going for us," Jacobsen said. "We've done things that no other school in America has ever done. We've gone from a $2,500 trade tech to a soon-to-be university. We've also gone from 2,500 students to 27,000 students next year. Nobody thought those things could have happened.
"Everybody who are naysayers now say that this NCAA Division I won't happen. Well, I look at this the same way. It will happen, and it will be a positive and exciting for our school, students and our community."
Talk about making the jump to Division I athletics started six years ago when the four-year degrees started to pile up.
"When I met with the president and vice president, their concern was if athletics was representing what our academics were becoming," Jacobsen said.
Three years ago UVSC applied with the NCAA, but just as they made application the NCAA put in a two-year moratorium. Originally the plan was to go NCAA Division II. During the moratorium, Jacobsen and the UVSC administration decided to go another direction and apply for Division I status.
"We finally decided that in the state of Utah Division II would not recognize our academics the way they wanted them to be recognized," Jacobsen said. "In Utah, nobody understands what Division II is. To them it is no different than junior college. We really didn't think we would make the move that is needed to represent what our academics are and where they want to go."
The administrators also felt that the only way they will get the support from the community is if they went Division I.
Beginning July 1, UVSC will begin its first of six provisional years with the NCAA. During those years the administration has to meet certain requirements each year. Also during this period, none of the 14 athletic programs will be allowed to compete in post-season competition.
Beginning July 1, the number one thing UVSC has to meet is the minimum scholarship requirement. UVSC currently spends $350,000 a year on scholarships for 13 programs. Next year UVSC will bring on wrestling. To sponsor 14 programs, Jacobsen anticipates spending $800,00 next year.
The second immediate need is to increase the teams' travel budget. Currently $150,000 is spent on travel for 13 programs. Next year Jacobsen anticipates spending $400,000 to travel 14 programs.
The Wolverine athletic budget is $1.5 million. But in order to survive at the Division I level, Jacobsen says the budget needs to increase by at least $2 million.
Along with the budget increase, UVSC is facing the challenge of getting into a conference. The goal of Jacobsen and the athletic department is to be in a conference within three years. Jacobsen is in discussions with the Big West Conference and the Mid-Continent Conference.
"They are the only realistic ones for us," Jacobsen said. "Getting the conference is my number one priority. Once we get into a conference, everything else will go much smoother."
Next season will be particularly tough on UVSC athletic teams because they will not have RPI status. Because of that, very few teams want to play UVSC, let alone come to Orem and play.
Women's volleyball coach Sam Atoa has only four home games for next season where in the past he has played 19. Atoa hopes to schedule two more home matches before the start of next season. As soon as the Wolverines get accepted into a conference there will no longer be scheduling struggles.
There are also some long-term facility needs. The new wrestling team will need a practice facility. Jacobsen also hopes to have an academic center, weight room and a larger training area and more training staff.
Even after going through a long list of needs, Jacobsen and the athletic department are excited about making the jump to Division I.
"We are pioneering something that has never happened before," Jacobsen said. "We are pioneering something that in 10 years is going to be fantastic."