By Kevin Sweeney
Currently, there are 5 schools who are in the process of transitioning from Division 2 to Division 1 athletics. This shift can be huge for a school, as it boosts athletic department income as well as allows the school to get more public attention through the media. However, the programs are forced into a 4-year grace period during which they cannot compete in NCAA-sponsored postseason play. This means that they aren’t allowed to participate in their conference tournament, NCAA Tournament, or the NIT. The lack of a chance to participate in the Big Dance, a dream of most young players, can be a huge roadblock in recruiting. Let’s take a look at the 5 schools and see how they have performed during their grace period.
Northern Kentucky– Northern Kentucky is in the final year of their transition to full D-1 status. The Norse have already switched conferences in their first 4 seasons, moving to the Horizon League from their original conference, the Atlantic Sun, starting in the fall of 2015. NKU hasn’t enjoyed much success since re-classifying, as they have yet to finish with a .500 winning percentage in D-1 competition. They fired coach Dave Bezold in the off-season after 25 years with the university, 11 of which as the head coach. This season hasn’t been any better. The Norse are 9-18 overall, posting a 5-11 mark in Horizon League play.
UMASS-Lowell– Since joining the America East Conference and beginning Division 1 play in fall of 2013, the River Hawks have been fairly average. They placed 5th in their conference in 2013-14, 6th in 2014-15, and appear headed for 5th again in 2015-16. One way that UMASS-Lowell has planned for full D-1 status is their use of red-shirts. 2 players each of the past 2 years have red-shirted for their freshman season. This will allow the River Hawks to preserve the eligibility of players for when they are able to participate in the NCAA Tournament.A young team with only one senior, look for the River Hawks to make a jump in performance in the coming years.
Abilene Christian– The Wildcats have shown improvement this year in their third season if the reclassification process. They have eclipsed their win totals from either of their first 2 seasons of Division 1 play. Currently, the Wildcats sit in 6th place in the 13-team Southland conference, with a record of 7-7 in conference play and 12-15 overall. There’s certainly reason for optimism for ACU fans, as their two leading scorers are freshman. One of them, guard Jaylen Franklin, is scoring 15.8 points per game. In a couple of years, the Wildcats could be at the top of the Southland Conference.
Grand Canyon– Coached by former Phoenix Sun Dan Majerle, the Antelopes have been perhaps the most successful team during their transition period. After 2 straight seasons of reaching the CIT, Grand Canyon has taken its game to another level this season. The Antelopes are 24-4 this season, including wins over San Diego State, Houston, and Marshall. Another thing that Grand Canyon has going for them is strong fan support. They averaged over 5,400 fans per game last season, a number that ranks in the top 100 nationwide.
Incarnate Word– The Cardinals are another team who have been successful in their first few years vs D-1 competition. After winning 21 games in their first season, the Cardinals have dropped off slightly, but still have represented themselves well in the last few years. Last year, they reached the CIT. You may have heard about Incarnate Word briefly due to their success against major conference schools. Last year, they knocked off Nebraska, and this year, they defeated St. John’s.