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Western Kentucky University

WKU Regents Approve Move To Division 1-A Football

November 02, 2006

Owensboro, Ky. - Western Kentucky University will be playing Division I-A football in 2009.

In a 7-2 vote with one abstention on Thursday during its quarterly meeting in Owensboro, the University’s Board of Regents voted to make the transition from Division I-AA to I-A. The vote includes a $70 increase in the student athletic fee beginning with the fall 2007 semester.

The abstention came from Staff Regent Tamela Smith who said she would have voted for the move if she had been able to bring some concerns to the board. The vote came as Regent Larry Zielke called for question, stopping discussion by Faculty Regent Robert Dietle.

Zielke, of Louisville, said that two I-A football programs in Kentucky is insufficient. He said the move will “raise all boats” at the University. “It’s like a rising tide,” he said. “This board has a golden opportunity.”

Regent Jim Meyer of Bowling Green said that only time will tell, but added, “I think we will be better for the move.”

Chairman Earl Fischer of Dallas said that spirit can drive an organization to greatness and “I look at athletics as a great provider of spirit.”

Regent Yevette Haskins of Campbellsville said that the University “has to step out on a little bit of hope and a little bit of faith. We will be able to move this university forward and that’s what we are here for today.”

WKU will submit paperwork to the NCAA office in Indianapolis prior to June 1, 2007, and will be considered as a reclassifying school for the 2007 and ’08 seasons. The first year WKU will be eligible to participate for the Sun Belt Conference championship and a berth in a bowl game is 2009.

Hilltopper Head Coach David Elson and his staff and players will not be available for comment until the conclusion of the 2006 season.

Dr. Ransdell cited several reasons for proposing the move at this time, including inequity in the percentage of scholarship funds to female student-athletes, causing the University to run afoul of Title IX compliance requirements. Female student-athletes receive about 6 percent more of the percentage of scholarship dollars than their percentage of participation would require. WKU will add 22 football scholarships by 2009, which would help bring the University back into compliance.

Dr. Ransdell also cited pressure from the Sun Belt Conference to join in at all levels. WKU currently is a member of the Sun Belt in all sports except men’s soccer and football.

Another factor cited was the distribution of Bowl Championship Series revenue. While Division I-A schools receive funding for post-season play, funding that is shared with other conference schools, Division I-AA schools must pay their own expenses during playoffs. In addition, only 16 of the 123 I-AA teams participate in the playoffs while 60 of the 119 I-A teams play in bowl games.

The proposal was discussed in more than a dozen forums on campus and across the state. On the WKU campus, it was endorsed by a majority vote of the staff and students, but failed in a vote of faculty.

Dr. Wood Selig, WKU’s director of Athletics, said opponents during the first transition season could include Eastern Kentucky, Florida International, Morehead State and Troy at home. Likely away games include Ball State, Chattanooga, Middle Tennessee and North Texas.

He said potential matchups for 2008 include road games at Indiana and Navy and home games against Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee and North Texas in a newly renovated L.T. Smith Stadium. A $37.5 million renovation and expansion project for the stadium began this summer.

WKU will introduce two new ticket policies for the 2007 season. While reserved chair and Red Towel seats will continue to require a donation to the Hilltopper Athletic Foundation, all other general admission tickets will cost $25 for the year—those on the lower level can be purchased with a $50 HAF donation. Also, students, who will continue to be admitted free with a student ID, will be able to purchase an unlimited number of guest tickets for $5 each and enjoy an expanded seating allocation.

When the renovation to Smith Stadium is complete in 2008, all reserved seats except those in the current Red Towel section — which will remain in the upper deck of the existing structure — will move to the new West Grandstand. New seating opportunities on the west side of the stadium will include Red Towel seats, premium seats under the overhang of the new upper-level section, reserved bleacher seats and approximately 800 club seats. The Topper Club Seats will be available at a cost of $750 per seat and will include the season ticket and parking as well as all food and non-alcoholic beverages. Individuals will be able to purchase alcoholic beverages in the club area as well.

Season tickets will remain $25 in the upper level — excluding the Red Towel section — in ’08. A family of four will be able to attend Hilltopper football home games for $100 for the year.

The student section will move to the entire lower level of the current East stands in 2008, which will be behind the visiting team’s bench once the renovation project is complete.

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