Can Tarleton compete at the Division I level?

By: Charles Houston

Sports Writer

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I (DI) provides the elite of elite athletes with a chance to try and achieve their professional sports dream.

The benefits to a college for being DI can range from new jerseys to new facilities and extra money for athletic scholarships for players. Not to mention all the extra national coverage for the games you play with partnered networks such as ESPN, ESPN + and ABC.

Those benefits explained previously are the reasons why a lot of Division II (DII) schools, as high as 42%, are sending in invitation letters in hopes of getting invited to a DI conference.

Tarleton recently moved to DI in 2021 and is currently in the first year of their four-year contract with the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). The university had previously been DII for nine years.

Tarleton State University packs the stadium as a DI team.
Photo By: Charles Houston

According to the NCAA website, for a school to be considered DI the student population must be higher than 8,000 and the campus must have ten out of the 12 major sports available, including football, softball and golf. When all those requirements are met, the school’s athletic director can send a letter of recommendation to their conference of choice.

The rate of DII schools getting accepted into a DI conference has gone up 36% since 2017. More colleges are following the trend to move up a division. The question must arise, is going to DI really that important?

Tarleton sports excelled in the DII arena. Tarleton’s volleyball team in 2018 posted a 32-5 record and won the regional tournament. The Texan football team in 2019 accumulated a 12-1 record going undefeated in their conference.

In regard to why Tarleton moved up to the DI conference, Athletic Director Lonn Reisman had this to say, “In everything we do in the Tarleton athletic department, we strive to be the best. We proved that we can compete at the highest level when we were playing NCAA DII competition, and it was time for us to take the next step. At the NCAA DI level, not only do we compete with the best of the best in collegiate athletics, but we also increase our school’s visibility on a national scale and enhance our talent further across the board from players to coaches to administrative staff. This transition has been great all-around for the university and we’re thankful for our university leadership and the Texas A&M University System for all their support as we make this jump to NCAA DI.”

DI sports have a higher level of competition that decreases the percentage of successful first-year DI teams.

Regarding how DI play compares to DII, Emma Holcomb, a defensive specialist for the Tarleton volleyball team said, “Every team we play is very fast-paced and talented. I haven’t seen a DI team that hasn’t been competitive. I have grown in a lot of ways mentally and physically and it has shaped me into the person I am today.”

The casual fan would not understand how the transition from DII to DI is increasingly difficult for the athletes.

Caitlin Tucker, a major in elementary education said this, “I been watching baseball for two years now and I saw the transition from the two divisions. This spring the baseball team looked smaller than most schools we went up against and the other teams looked more prepared.”

Tarleton sports at the DII level have posted positive records with the Tarleton volleyball team going 22-12 in 2019, and the baseball team going 35-17 in 2018. Since the move up to the WAC conference in 2021, this past season Tarleton’s baseball team posted a 20-35 record, and the Tarleton football team has a 3-3 record. This transition is going to be a process for the Texans who are just now getting their feet wet as a DI university.

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