Weather Forecast


Transition to Division I lifts USD's budget, facilities, recruiting

University of South Dakota senior guard Alexis Yackley, a Sully Buttes native, dribbles the ball during the Summit League women's basketball championship game against South Dakota State University in March in Sioux Falls. (Daily Republic file photo)

VERMILLION -- At the conclusion of University of South Dakota's first year of full Division I postseason eligibility, athletic director David Herbster knows the Coyotes accomplished many feats across the board.

Through the transition from Division II to Division I, the athletic program focused on building through the period to put it in a position for long-term growth. The athletic program's growth is seen through its increased budget, new facility projects and enrollment.

Last season, USD crowned a national champion in pole vaulter Bethany Buell. Buell cleared a 14-feet, 7.25-inch attempt to become the university's first-ever Division I national champion at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Also making history, men's thrower Cody Snyder, a Lake Andes native, was the first USD men's athlete to qualify for the national championships since the Division I transition.

In addition, USD won the men's indoor track and field conference title and the women took second in the indoor track and field championships. The Coyote women's basketball team made it to the finals of the Summit League tournament and the men's golf team also took second in the conference tournament.

"We look back in total and it was really an outstanding year for us," said Herbster, who became the athletic director in April but has been a part of the athletic administration since 2007. We want all sports to compete in conference and want to be one of the best mid-major schools in the Midwest."

The university announced its move to Division I in 2007, and the Coyotes competed in their final Division II season during the 2007-2008 school year. The four-year transition -- a time when USD's sports programs could not participate in postseason events -- began in the 2008-2009 school year.

During the first year of the transition period, the athletic program had 103 scholarships. Since then, the amount has increased 80 percent as USD provided 185 scholarships to athletes last season.

With the increase of scholarship dollars came an increase in the program's total budget. Scholarship dollars make up $3 million of the athletic program's budget -- which has increased from $5.5 million at the beginning of the transition to $10.5 million last season.

"With our growth and doing it the right way and building for the long haul, we're pleased to see growth in all revenue streams even through the recession," Herbster said. "Even during the recession, our revenue streams were still incrementally going up."

Herbster said the program's donations and donors have doubled, along with corporate sponsors.

"Building through the transition was important to put ourselves in position to build for long-term growth," Herbster said.

In the 2011-2012 school year, there were 1,200 season tickets sold. In the first year out of transition, there were 1,100 season-ticket sold solely for football.

"We had our best ticket revenue that we've had and that was a season where we were 1-10," Herbster said. "I think that says a lot of the program and quality of schedule. We're ahead of pace."

Revenue has increased from moving to a Division I program, and so has the program from a recruiting standpoint.

"Recruiting is something we heard about all the time through this process," Herbster said. " 'You're going to lose recruits.' We weren't eligible when we heard that. Kids want that opportunity to perform in championships right away and now they can with us."

With improvements being made in the athletic program, USD's enrollment has also seen an increase.

Four years ago, an estimated 970 first-time, full-time freshmen were enrolled. This year, the university is projecting more than 1,300 first-time, full-time freshmen students, according to Herbster.

"I think it's a direct correlation of going Division I," he said. "Athletics has helped our image and capital campaign."

Within the last five years, the university has built a new wellness center, student union, business building, medical and science building and Coyote Village -- a residence hall.

The addition, a $68 million athletic facility is now in the works, and it couldn't be more needed, said Herbster.

"As iconic as the DakotaDome has been to USD and South Dakota football, once the rest of the facility is completed, it will be as iconic for the next 30 years," Herbster said.

The construction timeline is 20 to 30 months for the facility and breaking ground is expected to happen in spring 2014.

The project will feature a basketball arena, 400-meter track, two soccer fields, two practice football fields and a section for academics -- which includes kinesiology, sports sciences, physical therapy and occupational therapy classes.

"One of the greatest things about the facility is not only will it improve the ability to recruit, but it gives students and athletes a sense of pride," said former Coyote track runner Alex Duling, a Gregory native. "It will really get everyone at the university and alumni involved in the athletic program and that's where school spirit starts."

More than half of the facility's funds are coming from private individuals, and Sanford Health will provide almost one-third of the cost over the next 20 years.

"Most of our giving has been six-figure gifts," Herbster said. "We're developing relationships that last through the good and the bad."

With all of the changes USD has seen in the past five years, Herbster said the one goal has remained the same.

"We want to keep improving," he said.

Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.