Presbyterian will have to wait to obtain Division I status

klyles@heraldonline.comOctober 7, 2010 

Presbyterian's transition to Division I status has hit a road block that will tack on an additional year before the Blue Hose are eligible for postseason play in most sports, according to PC's athletic director Brian Reese.

Presbyterian, a member of the Big South Conference since 2008, was hoping to complete the transition process during the current academic year. That would afford the Blue Hose teams a chance to compete for Big South Conference postseason championships and NCAA tournaments.

The announcement came from the NCAA Committee on Athletic Certification which reviewed Presbyterian's situation and determined the school will need to continue the process for another academic year.

Reese, formerly Vanderbilt's associate director of student athletics, was hired as the athletic director at PC on April 5, and started work on July 1.

"There was nothing on the radar at all, prior to my arrival, that we were going to have any issues," Reese said. "The self-study was started at the end of April. Not starting until July, I was not privy to that part of the process."

According to Reese the certification committee met in late July and early August to review PC. The committee then entered into a question and answer process. Reese got the official word last week.

Now that he has had some time to reflect on the decision he said, "I don't think we did a very good job showing the NCAA how unique PC is. The fact that our president can, on a moment's notice, get the entire faculty together in a single room is pretty unique. We did not do a very good job in that area."

Presbyterian is a small school with an enrollment of 1,200 students. The school fields 16 athletic teams, eight for men and eight for women.

"We may not have all bells and whistles," Reese said, "but we thought we had everything in place to get this done."

The implications of the decision were spelled out in a letter sent out to the parents of Blue Hose student-athletes. The letter stated:

Presbyterian will remain in Division I.

The school will remain full members of the Big South Conference and the National Lacrosse Conference.

All scheduled contests will remain the same.

The softball and men's tennis teams are "fast-tracked" and will remain eligible for postseason play.

The timetable for postseason competition for all other teams has changed slightly. Upon NCAA approval, those teams will become eligible for postseason competition beginning with the 2012 academic year.

The first order of business for Reese was to talk to the coaches. The coaches were then asked to meet with their players and also to notify the student-athletes' parents. Reese spent two days meeting with each team personally.

"I had to look them all in the eye," Reese said, "and say 'I'm the new guy here. It's not the end of world. It's just a big disappointment.' I feel bad for coaches and the student-athletes. When you look forward to something so much and it doesn't happen, it's tough. I've only been here a couple months. I haven't lived through the whole process."

Rock Hill resident Frank Zebedis' son, Brad, is a freshman catcher on the Blue Hose baseball team. He received his letter from assistant baseball coach Chris Edwards on Oct. 1. Coach Elton Pollock was out of town when the announcement came down.

"Yeah, it's disappointing," Frank Zebedis said. "Brad knew he was giving up the postseason his freshman year. Now he's giving it up for his sophomore year, too."

Zebedis's son, a former standout for South Pointe, will be able to play in the postseason his final two years.

The junior college players that transferred to the school this year to play their final two years of college baseball for the Blue Hose are out of luck.

There will be no postseason for them.

"Everyone is disappointed, especially my junior class," said redshirt sophomore Stewart Curry, a baseball player from Rock Hill. "We were looking forward to being able to play for a conference championship as seniors."

The men's basketball program may be the one that is stinging most from the news.

Coach Gregg Nibert has been building his team in preparation of being postseason-eligible for the 2011-2012 season.

He redshirted three of his top players -- all juniors -- last season in an attempt to take the Big South title when those players were seniors. The three players, point guard Pierre Miller, guard Josh Johnson and center Al'Lonzo Coleman, will not have that opportunity now.

Reese sympathized with Nibert and his team.

"To be honest, this is huge for (Miller, Johnson and Coleman). They were staying here an extra year in hopes of being able to go to the postseason," Reese said. "That's why they redshirted. Coach Nibert recruited and had a plan to be ready for the postseason. But at the end of the day, the team stood up and said 'We will do all we can do to win a regular season championship.'"

There could be a bigger prize for Blue Hose hoops. A good season could be rewarded with an NIT bid or an invite to the CollegeInsider.com or a lesser postseason tournament.

Reese did not say if any student-athletes were thinking of transferring to another school. He did say a one-time transfer exception for special circumstances may be in order.

Presbyterian was a member of the Division II South Atlantic Conference from 1990 until the spring of 2008. The allure of Division I athletics is added publicity, according to Reese.

"(Division I) adds to the enrollment picture," Reese went on. "It's easier to recruit student-athletes. You get better student-athletes with higher GPAs. The pool gets bigger."

Big South commissioner Kyle Kallander said the conference supports Presbyterian.

"We still feel they are a great addition to the Big South," Kallander said.

"They will continue to be a strong member of the conference and we look forward to when they will be eligible for conference championships."

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