story submitted by the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith
The University of Arkansas-Fort Smith has announced that it has been granted active member status by the NCAA beginning with the 2011-12 athletic season.
Fourth-year athletic director Dustin Smith received the official confirmation via a conference call with a spokesperson for the NCAA Division II membership committee at 11:10 a.m. on Friday and made the announcement public during a 3 p.m. news conference at the Stubblefield Center.
“This is a great day for UA Fort Smith and the Lions athletic family,” Smith said. “It has been a long four years and receiving the news that we are poised to be active members of NCAA Division II is welcomed.”
UAFS announced its intentions to pursue Division II membership prior to the start of the 2007-08 season. UAFS, which competed as a junior college since its founding in 1928, continued to compete as a member of NJCAA during the two-year exploratory period required for Division II membership (2007-09) and competed as a provisional member of Division II the past two seasons.
As an active member, UAFS is now eligible to compete for regular-season conference championships and qualify for postseason play.
“We are excited to be active members of NCAA Division II,” UAFS Chancellor Dr. Paul B. Beran said. “Division II is a great fit for UA Fort Smith, particularly with the direction Division II has taken under the leadership of its members’ presidents and chancellors who have made a conscientious decision to focus on the student aspect of student-athlete.”
Smith said the granting of active member status is the culmination of a lot of hard work by several dedicated individuals.
“Dr. Paul Beran and (former athletic director) Dale Harpenau were responsible for putting this plan in motion several years ago. The vision they had then has become a reality today,” Smith said. “We obviously wouldn’t have been here today without their vision. It took a total buy-in from the entire group – our coaches, student-athletes and the athletic department staff – as well as the university as a whole for this to happen. It is a great day for Lions athletics as we continue to build on the rich tradition of this fine university.”
There were a few hurdles to overcome during the transition. For one, the program’s move from junior college to NCAA Division II is not a common path taken by athletic programs, and the program’s initial request for full membership status in July of 2010 was denied because of a failure to field a team in the minimum required 10 sports.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment was for the coaching staff and the student-athletes, especially the past two seasons. As a provisional member, UAFS wasn’t eligible to compete for conference championships or participate in postseason play.
“This news is a tremendous testament to our student-athletes, our coaches, our athletic department staff, our fans, the university administration and the entire UA Fort Smith family,” Smith said. “We are excited to be a part of the NCAA and look forward to competing in this new division as active members.”
UAFS accepted an invitation to join the Heartland Conference, which is based in Waco, Texas, in March of 2009. This past May, UAFS completed its second season of competition in the eight-team league that includes Dallas Baptist University, St. Edward’s University, St. Mary’s University, Texas A&M International University, the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, Oklahoma Panhandle State University and Newman University.
This past season, the men’s and women’s basketball teams finished with the best records in their respective divisions in the Heartland Conference and would have qualified for the conference tournament had it not been for UA Fort Smith’s provisional NCAA Division II status. The volleyball team and baseball teams also would have qualified for their conference tournaments as well.
Even though they were not eligible to win the conference tournament, the men’s and women’s golf teams still participated in the conference tournament and finished second and fourth, respectively.
“The news we have received today will allow our student-athletes and coaches to once again compete for conference, region and national championships,” Smith said. “We are thrilled with the news and look forward to the opportunity to play in the postseason once again.”
UAFS will begin its first season as an active NCAA Division II member on Sept. 2 when the volleyball team opens the season against the University of Nebraska-Kearney in the first round of the University of Nebraska-Omaha Showcase.
Also, UAFS will add women’s soccer beginning with the 2012-13 athletic season.
“We will begin a coaching search this fall,” Smith said. “Our plan is to field a team beginning in the fall of the 2012-13 athletic season.”
It will be the 11th sport offered by UAFS, which will be an active member of NCAA Division II beginning with the 2011-12 athletic season. UAFS currently sponsors volleyball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, men’s and women’s golf and men’s and women’s tennis.