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Queens University AD discusses the transition from DII to DI sports

In their inaugural Division I opener, the Queens University of Charlotte (0-1) women's soccer program dropped a tough 2-0 decision to the UNC Wilmington Seahawks (1-0) on Aug. 18, 2022 at Dickson Field.
Queens Athletics
In their inaugural Division I opener, the Queens University of Charlotte (0-1) women's soccer program dropped a tough 2-0 decision to the UNC Wilmington Seahawks (1-0) on Aug. 18, 2022 at Dickson Field.

In May, Queen's University of Charlotte announced plans to move its athletic program up from the NCAA Division II level to Division I, the highest classification. It's part of a four-year transition that will see the Royals join the Atlantic Sun Conference. The transition began this month when the women's soccer team hosted UNC-Wilmington. To help understand the move, Queens Director of Athletics Cherie Swarthout joined Morning Edition host Woody Cain.

Woody Cain: Let's start with the elephant in the room question. Why did the university decide to make this move and why now?

Cherie Swarthout: Yes, well, it's a very good question. And certainly, we've had a tremendous amount of athletic success along the way and specifically in the last six to seven years as a Division II institution. But this is a much bigger move than the athletic department.

This is part of our strategic framework of fueling growth for the university overall. And the transition to Division I allows us to amplify our brand. You know, it allows us, as you mentioned, with the A-Sun to travel to different places, some very large cities, expand our geographic footprint and to build opportunities for other folks to better understand who Queens is and hopefully come to Queens as a student and faculty staff and move the needle there.

Cain: You touched on it briefly, excuse the cliche, but the Royals have been something of a big fish in a smaller pond. The men's basketball program has seven straight NCAA tournament appearances. You won over 30 games last year. Swimming and diving are among the best in the country with six national titles. Lacrosse and track have had a lot of success, but you're going to be one of the smaller Division I programs in the whole country with less than 2,000 students. Can you compete with some of these much larger programs? A lot of them are huge.

Swarthout: Yes, most certainly will be one of the smaller Division I schools in the country. But we're a very small Division II school, so feel like we have a tremendous foundation for us to be able to make this transition and to be able to compete with the other Division I institutions.

Cain: Tell me about the four-year transition period I mentioned at the beginning. How does that work?

Swarthout: Well, as you mentioned earlier, effective July 1, we were a Division I transitioning institution. And so it is a four-year process. There are certain benchmarks that we have to hit along the way during those four years, not only from the A-Sun but also from the NCAA.

As we continue to move the needle in some of the key areas; in some of those key areas are some of our facility upgrades that need to happen, some of our scholarship being aspects, budget aspects just, you know, really across what you would consider an entire athletic department continuing to evolve it up to that level.

Cain: All right. This is a question I hear a lot, and I'm sure you've heard it a million times, but a lot of folks haven't heard the answer. Is Queen's going to add football?

Swarthout: We do get that question a lot. You are absolutely right. You know, many years ago, we actually did a feasibility study around football in and around Division I. But we chose not to add football. And that is not on the horizon. It is a frequently asked question. But right now we have 26 NCAA sports and a pretty robust club sport offering. And so that is where we're going to remain.

Cain: I read that you have a decade of averaging a 3.0 GPA across all your athletes. That's something that is to be admired. But are you confident that type of academic success can be maintained going forward as you grow?

Swarthout: Well, absolutely. And I appreciate you bringing some focus to that. It is one of our key pillars. We're very proud of it. We've actually had a 3.3 cumulative GPA the last four years. We spent a lot of time focused on that. We've added some academic support staff, but we recruit student-athletes that are students first.

And that's not going to change for Queens. That's our culture. My philosophy is that you can do both and you can do both really well, and you do not have to compromise academics for athletics or vice versa.

Cain: You used to be a college basketball coach, so I'm curious when you go to recruit a student-athlete, how different is it to tell them you're going to play Division I versus Division II?

Swarthout: Well, that's a great question, probably for our coaching staff. Yes. I'm a former Division I basketball player at Michigan State and then I coached for ten years at Illinois State. So a good question for them. I do think it's changed the conversation like you mentioned, a big fish in a small pond and now maybe a smaller fish in a bigger pond.

But we're still, again, going to really focus on the great student who also happens to be a great athlete.

Cain: Let's finish with this. You mentioned landscape a moment ago, and as I'm sure you're very aware, the entire landscape of college athletics is changing rapidly. We've seen all the talk recently about conference consolidation, primarily driven by TV dollars and football. Where do you see all this going and is it concerning to you? I mean, obviously, you don't have a crystal ball, I don't think. But where do you see this headed? I mean, it's whirlwind speed right now.

Swarthout: It most certainly is. And that was one of our reasons that we chose to go Division I when we did, rather than let the landscape, you know, change, kind of shifting beneath our feet. You know, I think we have to adapt. We have to be agile. We have to continue to focus on our student-athletes and the student-athlete experience because, at the end of the day, that's what it's really about.

So, as it changes with NIL and the conference realignment and all of those different pieces, we stay really focused on what our core values are and we make decisions accordingly. And sometimes we're able to stretch and sometimes we're not able to, you know, maybe do the same things as some of the Power Five are able to do.

Woody is a Charlotte native who came to WFAE from the world of NASCAR where he was host of NASCAR Today for MRN Radio as well as a pit reporter, turn announcer and host of the NASCAR Live pre race show for Cup Series races. Before that, he was a news anchor at WBT radio in Charlotte, a traffic reporter, editor of The Charlotte Observer’s University City Magazine, News/Sports Director at WEGO-AM in Concord and a Swiss Army knife in local cable television. His first job after graduating from Appalachian State University was news reporter at The Daily Independent in Kannapolis. Along the way he’s covered everything from murder trials and a national political convention to high school sports and minor league baseball.