Let’s go Bears: time to consider basketball going Division I
Washington University undergraduates often bemoan their institution’s lack of name recognition among people outside of the elite academic and cultural sphere. Among those ideas most frequently raised for ways that the school can better promote itself is the suggestion that Washington University should pursue athletic success at the NCAA’s highest level, Division I.
These recommendations are often muttered haphazardly and without regard to the potentially negative effects that could occur as a result of the complete overhauling of the current athletic structure. However, the people in the Washington University administration should consider creating an exploratory committee to look into the possibility of the men’s and women’s basketball programs making the jump to Division I.
A move like this seems without precedent, but only with specific regard to basketball. Johns Hopkins University, a former member of the University Athletic Association (UAA), the conference to which University teams currently belong, has long competed at the Division I level exclusively in lacrosse, winning the national title in 2005.
Why hoops? Unlike Division I football, which requires the construction of a stadium with a minimum of 30,000 seats, basketball lacks the same stringent facility requirements and requires less time to build a quality program. With just limited upgrades, the Field House would prove adequate enough to host top-caliber collegiate basketball. Additionally, it is much easier to provide scholarships to 12 players while simultaneously maintaining high academic standards and not altering the cultural landscape of the institution than it is do so for 100 players (as would roughly be the case in football). There’s a reason why Duke is a perennial powerhouse in basketball and hasn’t won a game this season in football.
St. Louis plays host to teams from three of the four major sports leagues. Basketball is the only pro sport that the city lacks. The best alternative for the thousands of St. Louis hoops fans are the Bilikins of St. Louis University. SLU plays in the increasingly weak Atlantic 10 Conference, and yet the team consistently draws attendence in the top tenth percentile for Division I figures.
Though it would take a significant period of time to come to fruition, a quality product would bring students, community members and media attention to campus, thereby allowing the world to know about the world-class academics offered here. Throughout the course of a Duke broadcast, for example, that school’s academic renown is constantly noted.
With the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) currently being the fastest-rising league in the country, the University would do itself a favor to at least look into becoming a basketball-only member. It would be mutually beneficial for WU and for the MVC, as WU would gain name recognition while the MVC would increase its academic prestige. Wash. U. could be to the MVC what Vanderbilt is to the SEC and Northwestern to the Big 10: strong, slightly smaller private schools in predominantly state-school conferences.
Becoming a Division I school would also be a boon to school spirit on campus. Wash. U. fans might not be quite as crazy as the Duke Cameron Crazies, but as schools that are competing for national titles come into town, students would have the ability to come out in droves to the Field House and to root for the underdog, an opportunity not currently present. Then, if the Bears actually pulled off a win, WU paraphernalia would essentially be painted on students’ bodies for the next few days.
Division I basketball on the Danforth Campus would increase the school’s brand name and provide an unrivaled source of school spirit amongst the student body. The administration would be well served to at least look into the possibility.
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