By Brance Arnold ’10 MA
Division I—Here we come! Beginning in the fall of 2011, UIW actively pursued a transition from Lone Star Conference (LSC) in NCAA’s Division II to Southland Conference (SLC) in Division I. And now it’s official!
SLC’s Commissioner, Tom Burnett, formally invited UIW to the league during a press conference held Aug. 20, 2012. The transition becomes effective July 1, 2013 and will mark UIW’s four-year shift to Division I with SLC’s assistance and supervision.
For scheduling purposes, UIW will continue to compete in Division II’s LSC, but will be recognized as a Division I team in 2014-15. The Cardinals will be fully eligible for NCAA Championship events in 2017-18.
“We are truly blessed to be joining such an outstanding conference like Southland,” said UIW President Dr. Louis Agnese. “We look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with SLC that will be equally rewarding to our students and the residents of San Antonio.”
After announcing UIW’s invitation to the conference, Southland Board Chairman and president of Stephen F. Austin State University Dr. Baker Pattillo continued: “Further, we are honored to learn of the institution’s acceptance of our offer, and we are gratified by the approval of the UIW Board of Trustees and the visionary leadership of the university’s administration. The Southland presidents look forward to a beneficial partnership with UIW, its athletics, and the San Antonio community.”
“As is the case with other membership additions, the board has only shown interest in institutions that clearly bring added value to the league,” said Burnett. “That includes strong academic performance, athletic competitiveness and achievement, excellent playing facilities, geographic fit, media market size and presence in the market, and strong fan support. UIW is a historic and accomplished institution, and has the potential and resources to be a competitively successful member of the South- land Conference and NCAA Division I.”
SLC participates in the NCAA’s Division I for all sports; for football, it participates in Division I’s Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
UIW will be the Southland’s 12th member and will participate in all of the 17 sponsored championships. In men’s sports they include basketball, baseball, cross-country, football, golf, tennis, and indoor and outdoor track and field. In women’s sports, they are basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, tennis, volleyball, and indoor and outdoor track and field.
“We want to give you a first-class competitive experience,” said Burnett, addressing student athletes at the press conference. “We want you to succeed academically. We compete in a great, tight geographic area. You are going to be able to get home and get to class.”
The pursuit of Division I status has been a multi-faceted yet steadfast one. After presenting a formal proposal to South- land Conference representatives and its board of directors last January, a four-person delegation from Southland visited UIW in July. Led by Burnett, the committee met with UIW board members, administrators, coaches, athletic officials, faculty and student-athletes, and attended receptions held by UIW officials and local dignitaries.
“We quickly, as a site visit team, acknowledged and saw for ourselves all the wonderful things happening on this campus,” Burnett expressed.
To culminate SLC’s visit, a press conference was held where Burnett addressed the media and shared his impression of UIW. “I can’t remember when I have seen an institution so well embraced by its city, government officials and the corporate shakers in the community,” said Burnett. Now begins the logistical transition to NCAA Division I. And with the move comes the need to recruit more Division I athletic talent.
“We have been recruiting Division I athletes, with Division I coaches and now we have a Division I to enter,” expressed Dr. Agnese at the press conference officially inviting UIW to the conference.
Leading The Cardinals’ charge to Division I in football is Head Coach Larry Kennan, former executive director of the NFL Coaches Association. Kennan has worked with all-pro quarterbacks, coached at all levels, and possesses a Super Bowl ring. He was named head coach of the UIW football program in December of 2011.
Currently, UIW sponsors more sports than any other NCAA Division II school in Texas with a total of 21 teams in men’s and women’s sports. Since 2007-08, over 20 Cardinals’ squads have claimed league titles and advanced to national postseason play.
Not only will athletics be enhanced, but the university and its student body as a whole will experience some remarkable improvements with the move to Division I status. Some of the most profound enhancements include the elevation of the equity of student degrees due to increased admission standards; an increase in state and federal funding for student financial aid; an increase and improvements in academic advising resources, academic facilities, such as study areas and computer labs; and improvements and renovations to UIW facilities.
Division I status will further elevate academic standards. Burnett indicated at the press conference in August that the academic standards in the division are different and that coaches and institutions in the conference are aware of the need to recruit students of a high caliber.
The move will also expand and elevate the brand of UIW in the region and nationally.
“Overall, the move to Division I will make the school a household name across Texas and across the Division,” said Shane Meling, UIW’s sports information director. “You will see us on ESPN on the listing of scores and the name recognition will benefit the school.”
Before officially shaking Agnese’s hand to formally welcome UIW to SLC, Burnett expressed: “We love this city. We have fallen in love with this university. And we think there is a great future here.”