ST. GEORGE — It’s been almost 18 months since the Dixie State University athletics department made the announcement that they would be moving up to Division I competition and joining the Western Athletic Conference. Wednesday marked the start of the official transition, which will be a four-year process, with Division I postseason play eligibility beginning in 2024-25.
Fifteen of the Trailblazers’ 16 sports will begin WAC competition in 2020, with the football team joining the Football Championship Subdivision as an independent member.
“It kind of feels like we’ve already been there for the last 18 months with all the work we’ve been doing, but it feels good,” Dixie State Athletic Director Jason Boothe told St. George News. “It just feels good to finally say we’re Division I and get ready to go.”
Dixie State was originally a member of the NJCAA at the junior college level before making the jump to Division II for the 2006-07 season. After only 14 seasons at the Division II level, they will be moving up once again.
For reference, when it comes to other schools making the jump to Division I next season, UC San Diego spent 20 years at the Division II level, Tarleton State spent 25 years in Division II and Bellarmine spent 42 years in Division II.
In the grand scheme of things, Dixie State has made a big jump from the junior college ranks into Division I. The growth somewhat mirrors the growth of St. George and the surrounding area.
“It’s no fluke that we have grown just as fast and right in line with the community,” Boothe said. “We’re appreciative of that, but they’re very much related to each other.”
This move also adds some national exposure for the city of St. George, the university as a whole and, of course, the athletic department. It is a major move for all parties involved.
“It’s huge, just for more of a national presence and to get the university out there on the national stage,” Boothe said. “I don’t know that we’ll really be able to know the true impact until we get into it. Down the road a few years when we’re playing in NCAA tournaments and seeing that full exposure, we’ll really see the full impact. We know it’s going to be positive, and it’s going to have a big impact on the university and the town.”
As far as the transition athletically and financially, it could be a number of years until Dixie State fully adapts to the new conference and competition. The difference between Division II and Division I can be a large gap for certain athletic programs, while other Trailblazers teams could see some immediate success.
Financially, the move brings some challenges and rewards. One of the biggest challenges will be the increased amount of scholarships available. At the Division II level, teams are only allowed to grant a certain number of what is know as equivalencies. Per sport an institution gets a certain number of full scholarships which they can then split up into partial scholarships for a number of players.
This number increases with the move to Division I, but it will still be dependent on the finances of the university. Boothe added that Dixie State will be in a much different spot then WAC counterparts California Baptist and Grand Canyon University, which are both private institutions.
“We’re going to put our best foot forward and do the best we can,” he said. “We understand that the competition is going to be a completely different level then it was when we made the jump to Division II, but I think we’ll still have a handful of teams be very competitive and successful right away. Financially we’re not on a level playing field yet, but we’ll get there. I think we have a very good starting position to build from.”
Boothe was complimentary of the Division II level, saying that their move to Division I is not a knock on Division II.
“We’ll miss competing with schools that we built up good rivalries with, even if they may not be as well known, in the RMAC and even our old friends and rivals in the PacWest,” he said. “We’ll miss those folks and those teams, but we’re excited about making new relationships and rivalries in Division I.”
— Dixie State Athletics (@DixieAthletics) July 1, 2020
For their first game at the Division I level, the Trailblazers football team will travel to Cedar City where they will take on the Southern Utah University Thunderbirds. The game will be the start of a three-year contract with the two football programs and should mark the spark of a regional rivalry between the two teams.
The games between the two conferences were announced when Dixie State first went public with their jump to Division I, and the two will face off Sept. 5.
“We’ve had that one circled. Obviously it was one of the first ones we agreed to before we even announced the Division I move,” Boothe said. “At their place this year, at their place in ’22 and then at our place in ’24. It’s a big deal for the region and for our program to see where we’re at.”
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