After 35 Years As Top Division II Contenders, Metro State Considers Division I

October 30, 2018
Photo: New Mexico State Athletics | WAC Mens Basketball Champion - AP
New Mexico State coach Chris Jans shows off the net he had just cut off after New Mexico State defeated Grand Canyon 72-58 for the Western Athletic Conference men's tournament title Saturday, March 10, 2018.

Denver's Metropolitan State University Roadrunners are considering an offer to jump tiers into NCAA Division I sports.

The Western Athletic Conference contacted MSU and several other schools in the early fall and requested that they look into the possibility of joining the conference, Athletic Director Anthony Grant said. The proposal was discussed at a board of trustees meeting in September, but is still in the preliminary stages.

A transition to D-I sounds initially lucrative, but a decision of this magnitude has several important factors to consider before moving from a regional to a national division.

First, there's the competition.

Were MSU to make the leap, its teams would be playing the likes of New Mexico State, California Baptist, Cal State Bakersfield, Chicago State, Grand Canyon, Missouri-Kansas City, Seattle, Texas-Rio Grande Valley and Utah Valley. Currently, Metro's main rivals are the Colorado School of Mines, Fort Lewis College and Regis University.

Among other concerns, “obviously the first thing is cost,” Grant said. “We're currently a Division II institution, our footprint is largely regional and when you moved to Division I, then you need to think of the national implications, so we need to see exactly what the expenses are going to be for such a move.”

Grant said the university’s outdoor facilities, the Regency Athletic Complex, are up to par for a D-I transition with $24 million in renovations completed in 2015.

The indoor facility, the Auraria Event Center, is another story.

“Our indoor facilities that houses our men’s and women’s basketball programs as well as our volleyball programs needs some updating, it needs some enhancements,” Grant said. “Even if we were to stay Division II, it needs some enhancements.”

In 2014, the university researched costs for updates needed on the event center. The last updates are decades old and bringing it into the 21st century would cost between $68 million and $79 million.

Facility costs are not the only financial factor to consider and likely not the most important one. Because D-I schools operate at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics in the country, they have to adopt a mission of being committed to that high level of competition.

As a D-II school, MSU currently competes in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

Since joining the RMAC in 1996, its teams have won 38 tournament championships and 35 regular season championships. Volleyball has made 17 consecutive NCAA postseason appearances and women's soccer has made 13 in a row. Men's basketball has reached the D-II NCAA Tournament in 17 of the past 19 seasons, the most of any Division II school. Since 2008, all but two of its athletic programs have made the NCAA postseason in their respective sport.

These and other factors will be considered in a feasibility study that the university has hired Collegiate Consultants to conduct. 

An open forum is scheduled for students at noon on Oct. 30 at the Student Success Building, Room 440A followed by a faculty open forum in the same space, at 4 p.m.

Other closed focus groups will be conducted with donors, fans, community members and staff.

According to a statement from the athletics department, the results of the study are expected later in 2018. The WAC expects a quick response because once a decision is made there is a three-year transition period that follows.

Grant did speculate that the universities location both geographically and situationally are likely appealing to the WAC. Though the conference is headquartered in Englewood, there is not an institution from Colorado in its echelons.

“Looking at the WAC footprint in terms of the states that they are represented and the fact that those institutions are close to major transportation hubs, i.e. airports. I can see how our location being right in Denver, would be appealing,” he said.