By Jeff Thompson
Union University continues its transition to National Collegiate Athletic Association division II this year by participating in the Gulf South Conference. With this change, new challenges emerge for student athletes and the university.
Even though Union is only in its second year of candidacy for full membership in the NCAA, coaches, athletes and trainers are feeling the full force of an NCAA move.
“I think the biggest challenge for us is that it’s a huge learning curve,” said Tommy Sadler, director of athletics. “We are all starting at ground zero for a whole new organization. The challenge is trying to make sure everyone knows what is expected.”
Now that Union has been accepted to participate in the Gulf South Conference, athletes begin their 2012-2013 seasons competing against NCAA division II schools but will not be eligible for national tournaments until the 2014-2015 academic year.
Even with the eligibility restrictions, Union still has the opportunity to play an important role in the Gulf South Conference.
All games Union plays against NCAA schools will count toward in-league play and could help determine the final year’s standings.
With new regulations on time management, drug testing, and academic policies, student athletes are experiencing the growing pains of participating in the new conference.
With these changes, athletes and fans are excited for a new year of fresh competition and old rivalries reinvented.
By joining the conference, Union has the opportunity to play institutions such as Delta State University, Valdosta State, University of Alabama at Huntsville and University of West Florida.
Dr. Gary Williams, NCAA compliance officer, said he believes the move gives students an opportunity to move forward academically.
“Division II is not only here to give student athletes a quality athletic experience but to also have programs in place that help ensure that they get a quality education, that they graduate on time, and that they have a well-rounded life on campus that is going to prepare them for a career,” Williams said.