At first glance it appears that Trevecca Nazarene decided to follow in the footsteps of its former NAIA rivals Lipscomb and Belmont with its decision to transition to NCAA membership.
Trevecca, though, actually set off on its own course Monday when it was notified that its application for membership in NCAA Division II was approved on a provisional basis. In fact, the level of commitment and competition is virtually uncharted territory for universities in Tennessee, with the exception of the most geographic extremes.
Not only that, Trevecca, which will introduce a new athletics director on Tuesday, is open to the possibility that it could add football in the coming years. Neither Lipscomb nor Belmont, which compete in NCAA Division I, have football.
“That will be on our study chart very rapidly,” Trevecca President Dan Boone said.
Football actually could become a central issue as to whether or not the university gains full-time D-II membership following the necessary transition period, typically a three-year process.
The next significant step for Trevecca is to secure conference affiliation, which is mandated for graduation from the candidacy period. Wherever Trevecca ends up, it will become the longest road trip for member schools.
The two most obvious possibilities are the Gulf South Conference and the Southern Athletic Conference.
“One of the conferences is talking to us about the addition of football,” Boone said. “… I’ll begin talking with and visiting with many of the presidents of the schools in those two conferences and we hope before the end of this year … to have a conference affiliation landed.”
Currently, there are seven schools in the state that compete in Division II. Four of them are in the northeast corner and the other three are in the Memphis area.
Trevecca and Union University in Jackson, which also was approved for NCAA Division II membership Monday, are the first anywhere in the middle of the state.
“At the Division I level, athletes are really looking to go pro,” Boone said. “The athletes that come to Trevecca are looking to prepare themselves for a lifetime and a career of service in something other than professional [athletics].
“So D-II is much more of a fit for the school that we are.”
Trevecca’s 11 athletics teams will remain in the TranSouth Athletic Conference for the 2011-12 academic year. They will, however, compete for national championships in the National Christian College Athletic Association rather than the NAIA, which disqualified the university based on the fact that Trevecca applied for NCAA D-II membership in consecutive years (its 2010 application was rejected on a technicality).
Beginning in 2012-13, those teams will schedule competition comparable to those of full-time NCAA D-II programs. They likely will include contests against local D-I opposition.
“I’m ready to bring on Belmont and Lipscomb right now,” Boone said. “I remember the old rivalries of past years. … I look forward to knocking on their doors soon and saying, ‘Dare you play us again?’
“… It wasn’t but about a decade or a decade and a half ago that Trevecca, Belmont and Lipscomb were thick, thick rivals here in town. We would love to see those days come again.”