Consolidated university could mean move back to Division I athletics

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When Clint Bryant took the reins in 1988 at Augusta State, the school played NCAA Division I in every sport.

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Augusta State athletic director Clint Bryant (center) says the first step in a potential jump to Division I would be a significant improvement in the school's infrastructure.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/FILE
MICHAEL HOLAHAN/FILE
Augusta State athletic director Clint Bryant (center) says the first step in a potential jump to Division I would be a significant improvement in the school's infrastructure.

Now, just the men’s and women’s golf teams play on the Division I level. But with the consolidation of Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences University – which still has not decided its new name – the Jaguars could be making a full return to Division I in the near future.

“If Dr. (Ricardo) Azziz’s vision for New U. is to be a Tier One research university ranked in the top 50 in the country, everything that we do should have those same ambitions,” said Bryant, who is entering his 25th year as the school’s athletic director. “My challenge in New U. is to get our sports sponsorship and our facilities to a certain level so whatever is decided by the administration as the direction we should go in we won’t be hindered by facilities and or sports sponsorships.

“I’m excited from an athletic standpoint. Athletics is not the most important room in the house, but we serve as the front porch of the university.”

In a recent interview, Azziz said he and his team will be investing in athletics. He said athletics are important to any university, and a move to Division I is a definite possibility.

“We’re going to be exploring opportunities with Clint Bryant to see what opportunities there are for to enhance some of the programs and perhaps move to Division I,” Azziz said. “It’s probably a little bit premature to discuss, but it’s something we do have in mind.”

With the addition of GHSU, the athletic program will see a solid boost in funding, which will help the Jaguars on the Division II level. To make a run at Division I, Augusta State, which dropped to Division II in 1991, will have to overcome some serious financial obstacles.

Just to join Division I, the consolidated university would have to pay an application fee of almost $1.5 million – the cost was $1 million three years ago. In two years, Bryant said, the fee could reach the $2 million mark.

Then, the school would have to be invited by a Division I conference for membership. The school would be thoroughly vetted by a league for mainly three items (academics, facilities and sports offerings) before offering an invitation. And, if accepted, the new university would go through a four-year reclassification period – one year at Division II, three years on the Division I with no postseason play.

The new university would need to add one more sport to satisfy the Division I minimum. Augusta State currently offers 13 sports – seven for women, six for men. Women’s soccer has been mentioned as the 14th sport, but first the school must upgrade its facilities.

Bryant said the consolidation of the universities will help improve the complex around Christenberry Fieldhouse. Currently, plans are being drawn to reconfigure the baseball and softball fields, while adding a new track and new soccer field to the right of the golf practice facility. Bryant didn’t mention a cost for the new complex, stating he’ll be able to address the issue more in the next six to nine months.

“I know we have the worst baseball and softball facilities of any collegiate team in the country,” Bryant said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to change that. The quality of our facilities need to be first rate.”

With the addition of sports and improved facilities, Augusta State would need to add to its athletic department infrastructure – more people hired to help with athletic training, compliance and sports information, for instance. Also, the school would have to add scholarship money. The maximum number of men’s and women’s basketball scholarships combined is 28 (15 women, 13 men) – the total in Division II is 20 (10 women, 10 men).

Augusta State currently has an athletic budget of $2.5 million. When the school consolidates with Georgia Health Sciences University, Bryant said his budget will expand to $3.5 million.

In the Big South Conference, a nearby Division I conference, schools on average spend between $7 million and $8 million a year, Bryant said. And that’s on the low end of schools around the country.

“How do we grow?” Bryant said. “The new university will grow. But will we have the infrastructure outside athletics to grow, housing, student life?”

Bryant said officials with the new university will be able to project growth in the near future. That’s one factor that will determine whether the school remains in Division II or makes the leap to Division I. Bryant said the new school, which will have about 10,000 students with the consolidation, would need to grow to 15,000-16,000 students. Then, there would need to be small bumps in the athletic fee, he said.

“Like the visitor’s bureau, I need heads in beds,” Bryant said. “Heads in beds pay athletic fees.”

Should the new university remain in Division II, it will likely become more of a force on the national scene. The Jaguars started making waves a few years back when the women’s basketball team advanced to the Division II Elite Eight in 2004. Then from 2008-2010, the men’s basketball team played in the Division II Elite Eight. In 2010 and 2011, the men’s golf team won Division I national titles. This spring, five of the six teams advanced to postseason play, including the men’s tennis team which made a run to the final four.

AQUATICS TEAMS COULD BE ADDED

Augusta State athletic director Clint Bryant said though school officials recently toured the Augusta Aquatics Center and Newman Tennis Center, talks of the school becoming partners with the city of Augusta to operate the facilities are premature. But he added New U. will likely have an interest on collaborating to use both facilities from a student life standpoint. Also, with the addition of the natatorium, the Jaguars could add swimming and diving teams, as well as even a water polo team.

FOOTBALL ISN’T IN NEAR FUTURE

Supporters of a football program for the consolidated university will have to wait quite a while. Azziz said football is not a major, or even minor, focus at this point.

“People ask about a football team,” Azziz said. “I don’t think that’s anywhere on the near or far horizon at this point, but there’s lots of other athletic programs that actually bring value to a university such as soccer, lacrosse, sports like that.”

Comments (10) Add comment
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countyman
20588
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countyman 06/30/12 - 09:18 pm
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3
Dr. Azziz should focus on the

Dr. Azziz should focus on the educational part, and leave athletics to somebody else... Neither college soccer or lacrosse is in the same league with basketball/football...

Fiat_Lux
15912
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Fiat_Lux 06/30/12 - 09:41 pm
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0
So what.

ASU already has a basketball team. Soccer, lacrosse and swimming/diving make a whole lot more sense than football for this school.

Riverman1
86964
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Riverman1 06/30/12 - 10:09 pm
3
0
D-1 Basketball

I've written often how moving to D-1 is a great move. Since this move could result in much larger crowds at Christenberry and possibly the JB Arena, the funding should come from the school, private supporters and the city. Augusta is the only large city I know of in GA or SC that doesn't have a D-1 program in a close proximity. We have a great coach who could lead this move up.

KSL
134494
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KSL 06/30/12 - 10:16 pm
1
0
I love Coach Bryant's name

I love Coach Bryant's name for the merged institutions:
New U.

Gage Creed
17859
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Gage Creed 06/30/12 - 10:42 pm
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0
Oh wow!...A new baseball

Oh wow!...A new baseball facility? Whoda Thunkit?

Techfan
6461
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Techfan 07/01/12 - 03:28 am
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2
It sounds like they're going

It sounds like they're going to add an athletic fee to the MCG students. If you add football, just think of Summerville Stadium.

Riverman1
86964
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Riverman1 07/01/12 - 05:11 am
0
0
No one is talking football

Football is way down the road and if in our lifetimes it ever does begin it will be played at the Richmond Academy stadium right down the road. Summerville Stadium...heh.

Now basketball is a very real possibility. We have a big enough area, facilities, coach, athletes and interest. Look at Mercer in Macon. They just won the CBA tournament. Charleston Southern used to be our biggest rival and they did it. Winthrop has been in the NCAA tournament several times. College of Charleston used to be D-3. Remember when South Carolina played us here? A huge sellout.

madgerman
236
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madgerman 07/01/12 - 06:58 am
0
0
Now I wonder just who exactly
Unpublished

Now I wonder just who exactly will be paying for this right to join Division 1, whatever that is? Last I heard the money comes from taxpayers or students. And after we are admitted to this esteemed group, will we be regulated by them? I wonder just how many taxpayers or students are willing to hike their taxes or student loans to pay for this great honor? In fact why does it cost $1.5Million plus just to apply. Sounds like some division 1 commissioners are a little over paid.

travelp
31
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travelp 07/01/12 - 01:14 pm
0
0
The men's soccer team was

The men's soccer team was nationally ranked when Bryant got rid of it. Of there are more women's teams already then a men's soccer team makes more sense. We definately have enough talent around here.

Insider Information
4009
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Insider Information 07/01/12 - 01:41 pm
0
0
Copenhaver Field

If we go Division I, we will need a new athletic facility.

Maybe we would build a downtown baseball stadium?

Haha.

The "county PR man" would be thrilled!

hockeymann
226
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hockeymann 07/01/12 - 11:06 pm
1
0
Why isn't football on the

Why isn't football on the table now? We have loads of high school talent in
this area that could be recruited locally. It would be easy to locate a place
for a new football stadium. Start with Daniel Field, which is a waste 51 weeks a year, whose existing business could go to Augusta Regional. You
can bet that Azziz & Bryant are already cooking up new bigger athletic fees to go w/high tuition. May as well give the students something good
for their money, besides good basketball. Lacrosse & girls soccer do not
attract that much interest. Put ice in the basketball arena, and give us
college ice hockey like Alabama-Huntsville does successfully, in addition
to a good Division I basketball program. We already have a good Div. I
coach in Dip Metress. Maybe we can keep him here with this.

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