The Division II Membership Committee of the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) Friday recommended the membership application for Oklahoma Baptist University, setting the stage for the Bison Athletic Department to move from NAIA to NCAA Division II.
The committee's decisions will be reviewed by the NCAA Division II Management Council as part of its regular process during its July 21-22 meeting, and if no further action is taken at that time, the membership changes will take effect Sept. 1.
"We are excited to move forward with the membership process for NCAA Division II and for the new opportunities it will provide," OBU President David W. Whitlock said. "Our membership will allow us to continue to pursue excellence in all that we do by providing outstanding competitive experiences for our student-athletes and fans while upholding a culture of high academic success for our student-athletes."
With the notification of acceptance, OBU begins a three-stage process of becoming full NCAA members and inclusion of the Great American Conference. The move signals the beginning of the end of OBU's long and successful association with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
"The decision to apply for NCAA membership was challenging," Whitlock said. "A great deal of our history and heritage is rooted in the NAIA and we are thankful for the years spent with them. We have invested a great deal of thought into this decision, seeking input and discussing the impact throughout the University. After careful consideration, we believe the transition to NCAA Division II is the best move for OBU and we look forward to new experiences ahead."
OBU continues in the Sooner Athletic Conference and NAIA as full members for the 2014-15 season, but that association ends after that.
"We will always be proud of our association with the Sooner Athletic Conference and (commissioner) John Hudson," said OBU Director of Athletics Robert Davenport. "We will always value John's friendship and appreciate his work with the SAC and with OBU. We are excited about the process of moving to NCAA Division II. "
The three-stage process could take as little as three years with successful progression through each stage.
"The process takes a minimum of three years and involves a great deal of involvement from the entire campus," Davenport explained. "Over the 2014-15 season, all of our teams will compete for Sooner Athletic Conference and NAIA championships while beginning to adhere to NCAA Division II rules and regulations. The membership process consists of three individual years, any of which the NCAA could have us repeat if they don't think we have successfully completed all aspects of the year in question. During the second year and third years, OBU teams will compete in the Great American Conference league play and the National Christian College Athletic Association for national competition. Our teams will not be eligible for NCAA Division II playoffs until such time as OBU has completed year three of the membership process."
OBU will be the 12th member of the Great American Conference, giving the GAC six Oklahoma and six Arkansas members.
"We're excited to be a part of the NCAA and to join the Great American Conference," Davenport said. "We look forward to renewing some of our old rivalries and starting new relationships with a terrific group of peer institutions. The GAC is a young conference that is steadily making a name for itself in NCAA Division II. I am confident that we will eventually add to that momentum."
"The addition of Oklahoma Baptist is an absolute win for the Great American Conference," said GAC Commissioner Will Prewitt. "The geographic fit is perfect, they are already existing rivalries with a number of our current members, and OBU is without question the premier athletic department competing in the NAIA. I've been very impressed by the school's leadership after working with President Whitlock, Robert Davenport and other administrators on campus. It's a great day for the GAC and we're excited to have the Bison on board."
Oklahoma Baptist has won the last two Learfield Sports Director's Cup trophies as the best overall athletic program in the NAIA. The Bison and Lady Bison have accomplished that feat while maintaining a cumulative grade point average of 3.04 last year and 3.11 this year.
OBU was one of five NAIA programs recommended for membership. The other four are Embry-Riddle (Florida), California State-San Marcos, Concordia (California) and Concordia (Oregon). Three other NAIA applicants were not recommended.