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OC accepted into NCAA Division II membership process

The NCAA has approved Oklahoma Christian University’s application to start the three-year membership process for entry into Division II. If all goes well, OC could be a full NCAA Division II member by the 2015-16 academic year.

“We are honored to be given the opportunity to step into the NCAA, and we are ready to compete well,” OC president John deSteiguer said. “We are proud of our decades in the NAIA and we are thankful for the many wonderful relationships that developed on and off the fields and courts of play with our fellow competitors. We look forward to developing positive relationships with new competitors as we strive to earn full NCAA membership.”

OC will compete as a member of the Heartland Conference, a Division II league with member schools in Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. OC athletic teams began playing full Heartland Conference schedules this fall.

In 2012-13, OC is serving what is called Candidacy Year One with the NCAA, during which time the university will work on developing organizational processes to become NCAA-ready.

If the NCAA approves, OC could advance to Candidacy Year Two for the 2013-14 academic year. During that year, the processes become more stringent and OC must follow all NCAA rules and regulations.
Year three of the membership process – potentially in 2014-15 – is traditionally known as the “provisional year,” after which OC could gain full NCAA membership. The earliest OC would be eligible to compete for NCAA Division II championships would be the 2015-16 academic year.

The Division II membership committee annually determines if an institution should be moved forward into the next candidacy year and it can require an institution to repeat a year if progress is not sufficient.

“We are honored that the NCAA has allowed us to pursue membership,” OC athletic director Curtis Janz (86) said. “Oklahoma Christian is proud and excited to be associated with an organization like the NCAA that stands for excellence, competitive equality and diversity. We see this as a new beginning and a chance to establish new, great athletic traditions.”

OC also has been accepted as a member of the National Christian College Athletic Association, which will provide postseason opportunities for the university’s student-athletes during the transition process into NCAA Division II.

OC held membership in the NAIA from 1965 until the end of June and had been a member of the Sooner Athletic Conference since its creation in 1978. Changes in the composition of the NAIA, along with the growth of the university, led OC to re-evaluate its affiliations.

In 2006, OC began a community-wide discussion and study regarding national affiliation. The study, which was led by Janz after he became OC’s athletic director, was overseen by then-OC President Dr. Mike O’Neal, the President’s Advisory Council and the university’s Board of Trustees.

The process consisted of a comprehensive study of the university’s athletic programs, institutional framework and long-term strategy and fit. This process included OC’s senior administrators, staff, faculty, students, alumni, boosters and community neighbors.

Through this process, the university determined its strategic values and long-term vision were more closely aligned with those of NCAA Division II. OC already is functioning on an NCAA Division II level in terms of budget, staffing, sports sponsorship, scholarship support, academic standards, rules and governance, marketing, competitive success, student experience and other factors.

In April 2011, the OC Board of Trustees approved the filing of an application for NCAA Division II affiliation. OC filed its most recent NCAA application this spring.

“Joining the Heartland Conference and seeking NCAA membership will be a challenge we welcome, with new foes in new places,” said OC’s longtime men’s basketball coach, Dan Hays. “It will be fun to visit some of the cities in which the Heartland Conference teams reside. I think our fan base will really enjoy reconnecting with the old Oklahoma Intercollegiate Conference teams that are now Division II, because we will play some of those schools.”

OC’s new league, the Heartland Conference, consists of the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith; Dallas Baptist University in Dallas; McMurry University in Abilene, Texas; Newman University in Wichita, Kan.; Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell; St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas; St. Mary’s University in San Antonio; Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas; and the University of Texas-Permian Basin in Odessa, Texas. OC’s former SAC rivals, Rogers State and Lubbock Christian (Texas), also were accepted into the NCAA Division II membership process and will begin play in the Heartland Conference in the 2013-14 academic year.

OC won five national team titles during its tenure in the NAIA, including two during the 2011-12 academic year – men’s cross country and men’s tennis. OC finished in the top 10 of the Learfield Sports NAIA Directors’ Cup standings each of the past three years.

By Murray Evans (89)