Since its founding in 1923, McMurry University has been a member of the American Southwest Conference, and since 1996, it has been a NCAA Division III member. But that could change.
Dr. John Russell, McMurry University president, announced that the university’s board of trustees unanimously approved a plan to apply for the status of an NCAA Division II institution on December 17, 2010. The university currently is in the process of filling out the application papers to move to a Div. II classification, something that has been in the back of McMurry officials’ minds for more than a year, he said.
Academics serve as the chief motivation to seek reclassification, said McMurry Athletic Director Ron Holmes.
“Division II would offer many more opportunities for our students,” Holmes said. “Academics should always be the main thing a university looks at when they’re considering a big decision like this, and we are doing that here. Retention rates, graduation rates and academics should define a school, not athletics or anything else.”
ACU Director of Athletics Jared Mosley echoed the opinion that academics are the main function of a university and agreed that McMurry is headed in the right direction with this decision.
“The main thing you want to hang your hat on in a transition is putting yourself in the position to best help the university,” Mosley said.
The more than 100-page application is due by June 1 if the university hopes to get a response from the NCAA as soon as possible.
McMurry recently hired Cedric Dempsey, 1993-2002 NCAA president, to serve as a consultant for the university during the “tedious” application process, Holmes said.
“Cedric was the perfect fit for us during this time,” Holmes said. “His experience and resume speak for itself, and he will be a very valuable addition to our staff to help in this undertaking.”
Several current Div. III schools are interested in making the leap to Div. II status, said McMurry Sports Information Director Kyle Robarts. But the NCAA will accept only eight schools to do so, he said.
To be approved, McMurry must submit a stable financial plan, have approved facilities and a scholarship plan to the NCAA. In addition, the school will need to add an NCAA Compliance Assistant and a Director of Operations in order to be considered a sufficiently staffed Div. II school.
One of the biggest differences between Div. II and III schools is the fact that Div. II can offer athletic scholarships, while Div. III schools cannot, something that Veronica Snow, McMurry’s head womens basketball coach, said will have a great impact on her program.
“Being able to offer scholarships would relieve lots of pressure for our players,” she said. “We have lots of athletes having to pay their way here, and I know it would be a blessing being able to take some of the financial burden off of some of our players and provide an incentive for them to play athletics at McMurry.”
With an accepted application, McMurry would complete a 2-3 year probationary period before being able to accept membership into a Div. II conference. But the university still will compete in the American Southwest Conference next year, regardless.
If approved, ACU and McMurry presumably would develop a rivalry and compete against each other, something ACU isn’t used to as the sole Div. II school in Abilene. Also, the community would shift its attention from the long standing Hardin Simmons vs. McMurry rivalry to an ACU vs. McMurry one, something Mosley said he would love to see happen.
“I think it would be great if we had the chance to play [them],” Mosley said. “I know we would love to be able to compete against them athletically, and I know it would naturally spark into a rivalry in the Abilene community.“
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