Dickinson State is expanding athletic opportunities with the addition of junior varsity volleyball, men's basketball and women's basketball as soon as the 2019-20 season, according to a release late last month. Also, in the 2020-21 season, baseball will return after being cut, alongside men's and women's golf, after the 2017-18 season.
In the 2017-19 biennium, the university took a 24% budget cut and the decision was made to cut baseball and golf to ensure the university could meet its financial responsibilities. At the same time, the school started a four-year plan.
"You cannot cut your way out of an issue, but you have to be able to grow," said Thomas Mitzel, President of Dickinson State University. "You have to be able to offer services, you have to remain a top-notch institution in order to continue to attract top students and to give the best education."
While the university is facing a 16% budget cut for the 2019-21 biennium, Mitzel expects the teams can be self-sustaining and pay for themselves by bringing in more athletes who will pay tuition, housing, fees, etc.
"When we look at the number of additional students these sports should bring to the campus, they will more than pay for themselves," Mitzel said. "We would not be implementing other athletics if we did not believe that they could bring in brand new students. The enrollment increase we are hypothesizing we will reach will more than justify bringing those sports and more than pay for those sports. We wouldn't do anything that isn't financially irresponsible."
The plan, two years in the making now, not only looked at how to become more financially efficient and trim the budget, but also analyzed areas where the university could grow. Mitzel said not only is the school looking to raise the retention rate, but also attract more students and increase enrollment.
Knowing that athletics brings in dozens of scholar athletes, Mitzel requested then-interim Director of Athletics Pete Stanton to evaluate which sports he felt could bring in more athletes.
"Some of the teams in our conference and some of the teams in the area play JV, so we thought that was a possibility," said Stanton, who was officially appointed director of athletics on Tuesday, May 14. "That has been in the works for a while on the basketball and volleyball side. It was just a matter of figuring out some extra budget items and extra scholarships items versus bringing in more students. Once we looked at all of that, we saw that as a positive."
Another big benefit of adding junior varsity athletics, is bringing balance to the amount of men's and women's sports offered as required by Title IX. Including cheerleading, which began last year, and the new athletic programs, the Blue Hawks offer seven men's varsity sports, six women's varsity sports, one junior varsity men's sport, two junior varsity women's sports and three coed programs in cheerleading, rodeo and esports.
"There's always a bit of a difficulty in balancing different sports," Mitzel said. "We're constantly reviewing if our sports are in balance or if they are not in balanced. The addition of junior varsity sports and cheerleading just help ensure we remain in balance with Title IX. We're always constantly aware of being able to offer the same type of advantages as to our male students."
With higher enrollment, means a greater housing demand, which Dickinson State is prepared to meet.
The three junior varsity teams will likely be completely separate from varsity rather than feed it, but Stanton said the opportunity for players to advance to the varsity level from junior varsity will always be there.
In addition to traditional merit scholarships, aid could be given out to athletes even at the junior varsity level.
"I think it's going to be a win-win situation because a waiver that's given out isn't going to be a huge cost, but having that student in our dorms and on campus and a part of campus life is going to be significant," Stanton said.
Another benefit of junior varsity sports, comes with the coaches. Part-time coaches or graduate assistants not only offer an opportunity for younger, perhaps less-experienced coaches to lead a program, but they could also serve as help for the varsity coaches.
As for baseball, Stanton said the department is in the early stages of hiring a coach. The decision to wait until 2020 to begin the sport lies in the desire to start with a competitive team, rather than just bringing in players for the sake of having the sport return immediately.
Unlike baseball, golf continued to exist at Dickinson State post-budget cut. The men's and women's teams are fundraising to keep the program running on their own. While Mitzel said if the team continues to recruit well and show that its making money for the university rather than losing money, then he would look at putting it back in the budget.