Sunday, July 17, 2011

Seismic Shift in Sooner Athletic Conference

Could the days of the Sooner Athletic Conference be numbered? All accounts lead me to opine that it appears so. Sixteen schools across the country recently applied for, and ten were granted...entry into provisional membership of the NCAA Division II ranks.

Among those from the SAC applying for a move to D2, only Southern Nazarene has been accepted at this time. Northwestern Oklahoma State and Oklahoma Christian were denied for various reasons. I still fully expect NWOSU and OC to eventually be included. Rogers State has gone on record stating it plans to apply as well, at the earliest next summer. SNU will be joining the newly formed Great American Conference, which is made up of Oklahoma regional schools previously in the Lone Star Conference and Arkansas institutions from the Gulf South. Northwestern has already been invited to the GAC, granted the school is accepted for the jump from NAIA to NCAA. Oklahoma Christian (if approved at a later date) will likely head to the Heartland Conference.

That brings me to my completely hypothetical and for discussion only purposes conclusion...that within 3-5 years, the Sooner Athletic Conference will cease to exist. Follow me here. If the mass exodus of NAIA schools continues, that leaves a rippling domino effect for SAC members. And, the only reasonable outcome is a 14-team Heartland Conference with only Panhandle State playing football. RSU would be a very strong candidate for invitation to the Heartland, joining Oklahoma Christian in its desire to become a D2 school. Now, with Oklahoma Baptist and Wayland Baptist adding football one would think those schools are hinting at a date with the NCAA. If that happens, count OBU among those who would like to be in the Great American Conference. With the departure of some Lone Star schools, I'm pretty confident Wayland Baptist could end up in that league.

The remaining scenario has John Brown peeking at a move out of the NAIA, and joining up with Arkansas-Fort Smith as a natural rival in the Heartland. Lubbock Christian is a solid school with athletic success that points to an NCAA future as well...Chaps welcome to the Heartland! Throw those schools together with RSU and OC in the Heartland, and that leaves you with one more to ponder, Oklahoma City. We all know the Stars have the resources and the gumption to make a move to D2 work. Their hands may be forced after other SAC members leave them high and dry. Or, is OCU still holding out hope that it can shift back to NCAA Division 1 status? That would take a sizable prayer book and bank account to happen, but I guess it could. In the end, I peg OCU for the Heartland. Finally, you might as well add Cameron University in Lawton to the mix. Combine no football and a desire to leave the Lone Star schools behind, and you have another university that meshes more with the Heartland in terms of scope and mission.

With all that said, that leaves only two schools in the Sooner Athletic Conference's future...St. Gregory's and Mid-America Christian. Sadly, that's the long-term track of this league and those very tiny, private schools with low-dollar athletic budgets. Could the SAC add a Southwestern Christian and an Oklahoma Wesleyan to start a rebuild? Sure, but it's more likely SGU and MACU just look for an existing NAIA Division 2 league to join, see the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference. Ultimately, the current summer is the beginning of the end of one of the all-time, great conferences in the NAIA. The SAC was first formed in 1978, but by 2015 it could be sent to the scrap heap by the small college continental divide.

My new and improved Heartland Conference will include 6 schools from Texas, 5 from Oklahoma, 2 from Arkansas, and 1 from Kansas. For more information on the current league, click HERE.

*Addendum...I overlooked the latest news on the league's website, but McMurry University in Abilene, Texas has been accepted into Division 2, and will compete in the Heartland. The school had been an NCAA Division 3 member (D3 schools don't offer athletic scholarships). The more the merrier under my plan. I hope they find one more to add and make it a 16-member conference.

(The views and thoughts expressed in this blog are solely those of Shawn Tiemann. They do not reflect the opinions of the Rogers State athletic department, or the university.)

1 comment:

  1. Rumors fly all the time, but Oklahoma City University could be headed to the NCAA Division 3 ranks. The school recently hired a new president and we hear that he's not too keen on pouring funds into athletics. I, for one, think it would be a sad day when OCU no longer offers athletic scholarships.