The Division I dream many young athletes have is not shared by Colorado Mesa University. At least not for the time being.
CMU President Tim Foster was recently approached about whether Colorado Mesa would consider leaving Division II and joining the NCAA Division I Western Athletic Conference.
"My initial reaction was no, but in all fairness, I said I should not just say no, we'll go back and do a little bit of due diligence and then talk to the trustees and get back to you," Foster said.
Current RMAC members Dixie State University, in St. George, Utah, and Metropolitan State University-Denver were also approached by WAC officials, he said.
Foster had Bryan Rooks and Kris Mort, CMU's co-athletic directors, investigate what it would take to make that move. They reported the findings to CMU's board of trustees during its meeting last month.
When they looked at all aspects, they agreed this isn't the time for Colorado Mesa to make that move, although they would be open to it in the future.
"It's an ego thing, one is better than two, but not necessarily," Foster said.
The Division II model of balancing academics and athletics fits with CMU's mission as a university, Foster said, rather than the model of Division I athletics, which is more about revenue and national exposure.
Some of the up-front costs with the jump to Division I: A $1.7 million application fee to the NCAA, and another $125,000 annual membership fee to the WAC. Colorado Mesa would also have to pay the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference a $100,000 exit fee.
There's a four-year transition period, during which time no CMU team or athlete could compete at the NCAA championship level.
"You say to every kid on campus, 'You'll never play for a championship; sorry we brought you here,' " Foster said. "If you win the conference, you didn't win the conference. That's brutal."
Rooks and Mort estimated CMU's operational budget, which covers administrative and coaching salaries, scholarships and travel, would have to increase by $7 million per year.
For CMU to be a front-runner in all sports, Foster said the current budget of $8.192 million would probably have to triple.
Colorado Mesa, which has an enrollment of 11,044, offers 26 sports (771 student-athletes). The average budget among the eight WAC schools is $14,499,819, ranging from $4.5 million (Chicago State University, Illinois) to $23.3 million (Grand Canyon University, Arizona).
Most CMU athletes are on partial or no athletic scholarships, and sports currently are not fully funded at the Division II level.
Division II football teams can offer 36 scholarship equivalencies (tuition, fees, room, board, books), which are split among players. At the Division I Football Championship Level (formerly Division I-AA), there's a 63-scholarship limit.
Colorado Mesa has roughly 22 football scholarships, coach Russ Martin said.
The University of Northern Colorado left Division II for Division I in the 2003-04 school year. The budget was gradually increased for its 19 sports from $5.2 million in 2003-04 to more than $17.2 million in the 2016-17 school year, according to numbers provided by CMU.
In order to make the move to Division I financially feasible, many schools drop sports and funnel that money into remaining programs. Colorado Mesa has added several sports in the past decade, and Foster isn't willing to reverse that trend.
"Now it's coming down to student-athlete experience," he said. "Let's reduce the student-athlete experience and reduce the number of student-athletes with an opportunity to have that experience. We really believe in the student-athlete concept. I wouldn't want to do that (drop sports)."
Beyond operational expenses would be facility upgrades.
Expansions would likely be needed at Walker Field for soccer and lacrosse and Bergman Field for softball, and although Brownson Arena could become a volleyball-only facility, "we would have to do an arena (for basketball)," Foster said.
A new football stadium would be a possibility, or working with the City of Grand Junction to enhance (video board, stadium seating, etc.) Stocker Stadium.
Northern Colorado pumped more than $3 million into upgrading its football stadium before going to Division I.
The decision to stay put wasn't simply financial.
"It's about having a positive experience and being competitive and having balance," Foster said, "all the things that go into that equation."