Tom Daeger won’t forget his first trip to Trevecca Nazarene University.
Sure, the Indianapolis native was more than impressed with sunny skies and temperatures that reached into the low 50s this late in February. But that’s not what made his day.
As Daeger toured Trevecca, the commissioner for the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (G-MAC) received terrific news. On Monday, the G-MAC was approved as a member conference of NCAA Division II, effective on Sept. 1, 2012.
“It has been a day to have a smile on your face, that’s for sure,” Daeger said. “It is a great day to be celebrating down here at Trevecca Nazarene. ... Really a big day for us.”
Daeger had planned his trip to Trevecca a couple weeks prior as part of his trek this month to visit all six schools that make up the G-MAC — Trevecca, Cedarville (Ohio) University, Central State (Ohio) University, Urbana (Ohio) University, Ursuline (Ohio College) and Kentucky Wesleyan College.
Trevecca is in its first year of transitioning from the NAIA. As part of the reclassification process, the Trojans won’t be eligible for NCAA championships for the next two years. But joining a conference was half the battle for Trevecca, which should be a full fledged NCAA member by the 2014-15 school year.
“You need to be a part of a conference,” Trevecca athletic director Mark Elliott said. “Unless you’re Notre Dame, you can do it because everyone wants a piece of that. But if you’re trying to function as an independent ... if you were in Nashville, Tenn., as Trevecca I don’t think you would work very well.
“We had seen some other transitional teams — people moving from NAIA to Division II — that were trying to function as independents. Quite honestly, they weren’t doing very well at it in one sense.”
Four of the six schools currently compete as NCAA Division II independents and Kentucky Wesleyan is moving from the Great Lakes Valley Conference, where Daeger spent the last three years as associate commissioner.
Together, the schools form the 24th conference in Division II.
Already, the league is talking expansion.
Daeger wants to add two schools each year for the next three years to get to 12 by the 2014-15 school year. He also said 12 isn’t necessarily the cutoff number for the conference, which will be headquartered in Indianapolis. Target schools would be from Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana.
“There is certainly a possibility that we could look to expand even further, if necessary, with divisional alignment as a possibility,” Daeger said. “Really, as we move forward, the possibilities are endless in our growth. I think we’ll do what is best by all of our current member institutions as well as those that will fit in our philosophy and embrace the same things we are embracing here in our league.
“I don’t think anything is out of the realm of possibility at this point.”
The G-MAC will enter an educational assessment program for the 2012-13 academic year and begin competition as an active NCAA Division II member conference effective Sept. 1, 2013. The schools will compete against each other next year and host postseason tournaments for baseball, basketball, cross country, soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball.
“It is not going to be to go to the NCAA Tournament, but we’re going to approach it as ‘Hey, we’re going to have a great postseason tournament for the G-MAC,' ” Elliott said. “We’ll name a tournament champion for the league.”
As they are this year, as the Trojans transition, they will compete in postseason tournaments sponsored by the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA).
The invitation to the G-MAC officially came in November — just four months after Trevecca announced it has been accepted for NCAA Division II membership. Elliott, who was hired just days before the announcement, had looked into joining existing conferences such as the Gulf South, Peach Belt and South Atlantic.
But the Trojans were “grafted into a movement that had already started” as the Ohio schools planned to form a new Midwest conference.
“This is sort of a validation of Division II schools coming together in order to create another conference in Division II,” Elliott said. “Because of that I feel like we have been grouped in with a set of schools that the NCAA has said, ‘We want you and we are desirous of your success.’ I think this is a validation of how far our school has come.”