By STEVE KRAH
The University of Southern Indiana in Evansville has decided to raise its profile and athletics plays a major part.
The Screaming Eagles have moved from NCAA Division II to Division I and begin competing at that level in 2022-23.
“We’re not a secret anymore,” says Tracy Archuleta, USI’s head baseball coach since the 2007 season. “Once we make that jump to Division I we want everyone to know about it. We want everyone to know how good our nursing program is and how great the Romain business school is and our engineering program along with the great tradition of successful athletics.
“We’re trying to make a big impact across the nation and not just in the tri-state (Indiana-Illinois-Kentucky) area.”
It means that the Pocket City now has two D-I schools — Southern Indiana and the University of Evansville.
Archuleta has spent his whole college baseball career in D-II as a player and a coach. He led Southern Indiana to DII national championships in 2010 and 2014.
But he knows that D-I is at the top of the scale.
“The excitement comes from being able to hold our teams against the best in the country,” says Archuleta.
Part of the transition means hiring the staff to help student-athletes while gradually increasing the number of scholarships.
“We want to hire guys who are familiar with Division I baseball and have had success with it,” says Archuleta.
His current staff includes Nick Gobert, Seth LaRue, volunteer Brice Stuteville and director of player development Deron Spink.
Gobert and Stuteville played at USI. LaRue is a 2011 graduate of Evansville Mater Dei High School who coached at Texas A&M Corpus Christi 2020-22. Spink is a former head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville.
Southern Indiana is beginning a four-year probationary period. The Screaming Eagles will not be eligible for NCAA tournament play until 2026-27.
NCAA D-I allows for 11.7 baseball scholarships while D-II is capped at 9. USI typically had six to seven.
“Recruiting has a big impact in all sports,” says Archuleta. “You have to be able to sell the university and give the student-athlete an understanding of why USI is a great fit for them.
“The difference now in recruiting is that you see everyone out there working instead of a select few. When you call a kid they have six schools already on them.”
In looking at Southern Indiana’s current roster, Archuleta has a mix of junior college transfers and players right out of high school along with returnees.
Archuleta says the roster will have to be trimmed from 50 to 40 by the spring season.
“The biggest thing for our guys is that they have to be willing to meet the challenge,” says Archuleta. “Some guys will have to step it up a little bit.”
USI plays host to Kent State in a charity exhibition at 2 p.m. Central Time Saturday, Oct. 22.
“I’m excited about what’s ahead for us there,” says Archuleta. “We’ll see where we’re at.”
Formerly a part of the D-II Great Lakes Valley Conference, Southern Indiana now belongs to the Ohio Valley Conference (with Eastern Illinois University, Lindenwood University, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Morehead State University, Southeast Missouri State University, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technological University and University of Tennessee at Martin).
“There’s tradition there,” says Archuleta of the OVC. “In baseball, the conference is up-and-coming.
“With us, there’s the proximity of all the schools. It’s going to be neat for USI to build up rivals. Fans will be able to travel to road games.”
All but Tennessee Tech (205), Morehead State (260) and Arkansas-Little Rock (409) are inside 200 miles from USI.
SEMO competed in the Louisville Regional in 2022.
D-II is allowed to play 50 games. In 2022, USI played 49 with 28 of those at home.
D-I allows 56 games. Archuleta says he expects the 2023 Screaming Eagles schedule to be released in mid-November.
“Two of our first four weekends are at home (against Oakland and Bellarmine),” says Archuleta. “We have some midweek games at home.
“I think we only have two non-Division I opponents on our schedule.”
USI Baseball Field became the permanent home of the Screaming Eagles in 1974.
The on-campus facility is tree-lined and has lights and seating for about 1,200 with a concession stand, picnic area, press box and restrooms.
There’s also a four-camera replay system — something many D-I school do not possess.
Dimensions are 355 feet down the lines, 375 in the power alleys and 380 to dead center field.
“Our facilities are unbelievable,” says Archuleta. “We have great people who work on it.”
Archuleta can see upgrades coming in the next five-plus years.
“We have a little bit of work to do, but we’re not far away,” says Archuleta.