Union University is one of the newest institutions to attain eligibility for the Gulf South Conference. The GSC is part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II. Shorter University, located in Rome, Ga. also received eligibility for the 2014-2015 year.
Union completed a three-year transitioning process, which began in the 2011-2012 academic year. During the transition, Union’s coaching staff and student-athletes underwent training in order to comply with the NCAA’s guidelines and rules.
“The transition to NCAA’s Division II from our previous conference was a carefully thought out process,” said Union Associate Director of Athletics and Senior Woman Administrator, Katie Woodruff.
Other institutions in the conference are: Christian Brothers, Delta State, the University of West Alabama, the University of West Florida, the University of North Alabama, the University of Alabama Huntsville, West Georgia University, Valdosta State, and Shorter University. Lee University will be joining the conference in the 2015-2016 academic year, and Mississippi College in the 2016-2017 year.
“Prior to our transition to NCAA from the NAIA [National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics], Dr. Dockery hired a firm to determine whether or not moving to Division II would be good for our institution, and they determined that it was. Shortly after, they began the application process and in June 2011 were accepted into the transition process,” Woodruff added.
“The first year,” said Woodruff, “we were in the process of implementing NCAA’s rules. One great thing was that the Gulf South Conference required that we immediately follow the rules and guidelines, whereas with other institutions, you receive a grace period. The implementation of these rules right away helped us to hone our knowledge of the guidelines early on, so even though it was a quick transition, it helped us immensely in the long run.
“The Gulf South Conference is the premier Division II conference as far as athletic championships and accomplishments go. Many have referred to it as the SEC of Division II.” Woodruff said.
The move to this division brings many opportunities, Associate Vice President for Compliance and Athletic Programs, Debbie Snell, believes: “We have already begun to play regular season competition with all of these conference opponents and have already developed rivalries that will spark school spirit across campus.”
Snell added, “Everyone is invited to come participate in the game day environment which is very exciting.”
The eligibility not only means opportunities to grow school spirit, but also to share the university’s mission.
“Out of the ten current teams, three are private institutions; so most of the institutions we play are state schools. When they come to our campus, they are exposed to Union’s atmosphere,” says Woodruff.
“The hope is that, for our coaches, they are not only challenging our student-athletes to be competitive on the field but also to have Christ-like attitudes and to be great followers of Jesus Christ,” Woodruff added.
Snell agreed that the move provides much opportunity, “Some of these new opponents are faith based institutions, but some are not. We also will often face regional opponents who are not institutions of faith. Every opportunity to compete brings new opportunities to share the Word and live out the Great Commission.”
“We hope that when people play our teams and see our student-athletes they see a difference – a difference in the way we react,” said Director of Athletics Tommy Sadler. “We try to live out the Gospel in the way that we play the game. That is the ultimate goal.”