Trevecca Nazarene might hoist some postseason trophies this season. None, however, will bear the words 'NAIA' or 'TranSouth Athletic Conference.'
Those affiliations are nearly over but a new one has begun with the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA).
The Trojans sat in limbo after they were approved in July for a provisional membership into NCAA Division II, a transition which typically takes three years. The NAIA immediately gave Trevecca the boot because the university applied for NCAA membership in consecutive years. The university's 2010 application was rejected because — at the time — it did not have the required number of active and competitive varsity teams.
The NCCAA is not a governing body like the NAIA or NCAA and it conducts only postseason tournaments. Membership is renewed on an annual basis.
Trevecca applied this year and was accepted as a Division I member.
Beginning with this school year, TNU will compete in the Mid-East Region.
As the university eases its way into NCAA Division II, the NCCAA still allows for postseason opportunities during the transition period — and possibly beyond.
“We have some programs that are immediately ready to compete [in NCAA Division II]. We have other programs that are not,” Trevecca athletics director Mark Elliott said. “If they have a really good season and we are still a member in good standing with the NCCAA, it rewards students and gives them another postseason opportunity. ... We could possibly be a member of this for a long, long time.”
Elliott says many might see the NCCAA as a second-tier association when compared to the NAIA. Not him, especially in terms of the postseason tournaments.
Elliott, who was hired in July, recalls his basketball coaching days at Vanderbilt. The Commodores captured the NIT title in 1990. He said they were teased about being No. 65 in the country because they didn’t compete in the 64-team NCAA Tournament.
“We weren’t [No. 65]. We could have beaten an awful lot of teams. In fact, I think we were ranked No. 25 at the end of the season,” he said. “It was really an award. It was a big deal for us.
"I look at [the NCCAA postseason] the same way. It is not a tournament for losers. It is a tournament for people who didn’t make it to the [NAIA] national tournament but are very worthy to go on.”
Trevecca will continue to play TranSouth opponents during 2011-12 school year. However, the league’s athletic directors and presidents voted to exclude the university from the conference’s regular-season and postseason championships, along with consideration for individual weekly and postseason awards. The Trojans are only eligible for the conference’s academic awards.
Since Trevecca does not qualify for NAIA postseason play, the league doesn’t want to risk letting the Trojans compete in conference tournaments for fear they might capture a championship and steal an automatic bid — one they can’t use.
But is excluding Trevecca from counting in the TranSouth regular-season standings going too far? Elliott says his counterparts might be looking at it another way.
“There is a national ranking process that allows at-large bids to qualify for national postseason play,” Elliott said. “If Trevecca takes one of those spots, it is possible that the No. 2 team [in the conference] might not get an at-large bid. That is logical. In their mind, they eliminated us as being someone that would possibly keep them from getting a national postseason play invitation.
“… I would like to be able to compete for a regular-season championship just because we have been a dues paying member and continue to be a dues paying member. It should not have involved us not being able to play for regular-season titles.”
Trevecca has until Sept. 15 to declare which of its fall sports intend to compete in NCCAA postseason play.
It must also set internal qualifications by then. For example, the university must decide if a team that finishes below .500 during the regular season should be eligible for postseason play.
“We don’t want a team that had a very poor season to compete in postseason play just because we have a postseason play opportunity,” Elliott said. “I think they have to still have some sort of record of success in order to go there.”
As for next year, Trevecca hopes to play schedules that have a “50-50 split” of NAIA and NCAA Division II teams.
The school is continuing its search in finding a Division II conference to join. Elliott said possible candidates are the Gulf South, Peach Belt and South Atlantic conferences.
The Gulf South might make the most sense geographically with schools such as Christian Brothers (Memphis), North Alabama and Alabama-Huntsville. Union, located in Jackson, Tenn., will begin competing in the Gulf South in 2012-13. The Bulldogs, a current TranSouth member, were accepted into Division II in July as well.
Elliott, however, said joining a conference with more “like-minded, faith-based schools” would be more ideal for Trevecca. However, the NCAA has issued a moratorium on creating new Division II conferences. The suspension runs through January 2013.
“Would it be of any value for Trevecca to be in the same conference as the University of West Florida, as the University of North Alabama? Well, maybe,” Elliott said. “But doesn’t it make a little bit more sense to be involved with schools like Kentucky Wesleyan, schools like Christian Brothers, schools like Carson-Newman? These are Division II, medium-sized colleges that are faith based.
"They are like us. To compete against those people with like missions, that is what intercollegiate sports is all about.”