Should we stay or should we go? USD athletics needed an answer.
South Dakota State University announced its intent to transition to Division I athletics on Aug. 16, 2003. With SDSU, North Dakota State and University of North Dakota all making the D-I jump, the Coyotes had to make a decision.
USD announced on June 21, 2003 it was creating an Athletic Review Task Force to study if the Coyotes should go D-I or stay D-II. The task force presented its findings to USD President James Abbott and the ARTF voted 21-4 in favor of making the D-I move on November 6, 2003.
Tina Keller, former chair of the athletic board of control, was the co-chair of that task force that President Jim Abbott had charged for evaluating USD’s conference affiliation and competition level in the NCAA.
“And so we had actually hired a consultant to help with the process. And he read our strategic plan,” Keller said. “And you know, he said, ‘having read your strategic plan, it would really make no sense at all for you not to make that move to Division I, because you’re taking your institution forward. Let’s take your athletic program along with it.’”
This transition would carry important implications for all sports at USD. On May 3, 2006, The Volante published a pros and cons graphic, regarding how the Division I move would impact various sports.
Why stay D-II:
-Team played well in D-II
-High number of scholarships would be needed
Why go D-I:
-Potential to join a conference with SDSU, NDSU and UND
-There’s an eight-year wait period before new D-I schools can earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. That could make recruiting difficult
-The high level of competition in the NCC has prepared them for D-I
-Being D-I could help them get more and better local recruits
-The rule about no post-season until they get into a conference
-Why to stay: The volleyball team plays their home games in the Dome. They don’t have a great facility like Division-I teams.
-Why to go: The ongoing Title IX compliance could bring more money to the volleyball team, including more scholarships
Track and Field:
-Why to stay: The team practices outside at the Vermillion High School’s track during the outdoor season. They would need a separate outdoor track if they go D-I
-Why to go: The team has won many NCC championships and has experience against D-I schools.
Chad Lavin was the USD women’s basketball coach at the time, but he left before the team started playing Division-I. He had previous experience coaching at a D-I school and knew what changes USD would face through this process. He knew a D-I schedule would require much more travel.
“For me, I was 52, I had already been coaching 30 years,” Lavin said. “It just wasn’t for me. So, that’s why I got out.”
With Lavin out, USD brought in former Coyote basketball player Ryun Williams. He supported the D-I transition.
“It was a good move for the U,” Williams said. “It’s a big time academic school. It’s got big time athletics. It fits that D-I mold for sure.”
But the rich history from the Division-II days was hard to replace at the D-I level in the first season.
“The old NCC in the D-II days, that was the best Division-II league in the country,” Williams said. “You had so many rival games. Morningside. South Dakota State. Augustana. I mean there were so many big games and that was fun, where people, our fans, were very familiar with the rivalries”
The Coyotes traveled throughout the United States in their first D-I season.
“It was just a very unique schedule. Then we got in that Great West, and that’s where there was just a disconnect,” Williams said. “Our fans didn’t know any of the [teams]: Houston Baptist, Texas Pan American, New Jersey Tech, Chicago State. It was hard to really embrace this D-I thing.”
Bridget Yoerger played women’s basketball at USD from 2005 to 2009. Her 1,604 career points land fourth on the school’s all-time list. She said she believed the team was capable of facingthe obstacles during the transition phase.
“Someone had to be the people to go through it, and I think we were the perfect group of girls,” Yoerger said. “We had so much going on, so many changes, but we all still had a great year, a great season with each other.”
In the team’s last season of Division-II play, they finished as the runners-up in the National Championship, falling to Northern Kentucky, 63-58.
“Of course I would have liked one more year of Division-II, but I already had my chance. We lost in the championship, so no I wouldn’t change anything,” Yoerger said.
Ashley Bjorkman played on the team from 2003 to 2009. She said she believed the team’s consistent success in Division-II justified the move.
“We could’ve been competing D-I already anyways because we were just such a good program at the D-II level,” Bjorkman said. “So, I was for it honestly because I just thought it would be good for USD as a whole to grow.”
Former basketball player Maggie Youngberg worked as a grad assistant under coach Ryun Williams from 2010 to 2012. She’s enjoyed watching USD athletics blossom into what it is today, she said.
“We’re only going to be getting newer, better stuff, better things. That’s kind of what recruiting is all about,” Youngberg said. “You’re selling like this Coyote family, this Vermillion small town, just place that you can come and where everybody cares about athletics.”
While the D-I move was over ten years ago, the current student athletes don’t overlook the path paved by those who came before them. The Coyotes qualified for the NCAA Tournament last year via an at-large bid. As The Volante mentioned in 2006, there’s an eight-year wait period for new D-I schools to earn at-large bids, so USD’s decision to transition when they did, as opposed to waiting a few years later, opened the door for 2018-19 women’s basketball team to compete in March Madness.
“I’ve been to a couple of alumni events and I think [head coach Dawn Plitzuweit] does such a good job of always talking about people that have paved their way,” Youngberg said. “I just hope that they know that we all still just love USD so much and just want the best and hope they have the most success.”