Lee University Athletic Director Larry Carpenter and Assistant Athletic Director Andrea Hudson spoke on the rewards and challenges of moving to NCAA Division II at Thursday’s Kiwanis luncheon.
Carpenter assured the change had nothing to do with negative feelings associated with the NAIA.
“As our school kept growing and our athletic teams kept doing well at the NAIA level, you know, we had some meetings and we asked where do we see ourselves and where do we want to go,” Carpenter said. “The decision was made to look into joining the NCAA.”
Carpenter mentioned several of the benefits of making a conference change: regional exposure for Lee, heightened competition and increased opportunities for student athletes.
Making the decision to leave a 39-year relationship with the NAIA was difficult. Receiving an invitation to an NCAA conference was even more challenging. Lee narrowed down its choices to two conferences: the South Atlantic and the Gulf South.
Neither conference was overly interested in presenting an invitation to a university without a football team.
Lee invited the Gulf South Conference to tour the campus. A desire for the university to add football was once again mentioned.
“We didn’t commit to that, but what we did commit to was doing a sincere, serious feasibility study of adding football, which we are doing now,” Carpenter said. “We have a committee and we have been meeting. We will make a presentation to the president in March and probably in May there will be a decision made by the board.”
The GSC was satisfied with Lee’s compromise and extended an invitation to the conference.
There are currently seven public and five private educational institutions in the conference. Some of these include: Shorter University, Delta State University, Valdosta State University, Union University, University of West Florida, University of North Alabama and Christian Brothers University.
Lee is now at the beginning of a three-year process to become an active member of the division. Usually, the first year is dedicated to developing policies for the program. Implementation of the policies is seen in year two with full compliance throughout year three. A successful three-year process will lead to active membership in year four.
Carpenter said the process is working a little differently for Lee.
“The Gulf South said if they put us on their schedules, which we are this year, then we had to be fully compliant within our first year,” Carpenter said. “So last year, while we were writing our policies and implementing them, we had to be in full compliance.”
A compliance committee was formed to monitor the change. Members include Paul Cretton, compliance coordinator; Jessica McIntyre, assistant compliance coordinator; Mark Whickam, faculty athletic representative; Phil Cook, vice president for enrollment; Cathy Thompson, registrar; Michael McMullin, NCAA athletic eligibility assistant; Erin Looney, director of academic services; Michael Ellis, scholarship compliance coordinator; Carpenter; and Hudson.
Carpenter said the committee has done a good job of staying on top of the numerous policy changes.
Members on the committee are in charge of rules education, rules interpretation and coordinating rules compliance efforts. The committee is closely monitoring whether athletic teams are in constant full compliance.
Hudson, who is also senior women’s administrator, presented a list of academic accomplishments of Lee’s athletes: 24.3 percent of student athletes are on an academic scholarship; student athletes have averaged a grade point average of 3.14 over the last three years in comparison to the 3.11 GPA for the general student body; the graduation rate is 10 percent higher than the general student body’s 49 percent; and 10 of 13 teams had a GPA above 3.04 last year.
She explained the university is just as proud of the academic accomplishments as the athletic ones.
Hudson also gave a coach’s perspective of the recent conference change.
“It has been interesting. One thing I’ve noticed right away is the professionalism in the schools where we are going to play in the NCAA, and the quality of the teams,” Hudson said. “It is definitely causing us to step up our game and work harder.”
Continued Hudson, “We have found the level of competition to be amazing. Every game we play, we have to bring our A game. And that is with every sport.”