The official announcement of ACU joining the Southland Conference on July 1, 2013 means the Wildcats will leap to NCAA Division I athletics for the 2013-14 school year.
This move raises an interesting question: Can we compete in Division I?
It is a question that ACU has already addressed during its process of becoming a Division I program.
Jared Mosley, director of Wildcat athletics, looked at other small D-I schools to help answer this question.
“It’s pretty obvious if you look at the landscape of smaller division I institutions that it’s going to require a shift in how we look at our program from a competitive standpoint,” Mosley said.
“In Division II we’ve grown accustomed to trying to compete at the national level, so we want to send teams to the national meets and national tournaments,” he said. “While we certainly inspire to do that at the Division I level, it’s going to be a little more challenging in some ways.”
“You have to reorient and begin, where we’re at, to focus on conference competitiveness. If you’re able to achieve conference titles and win conference tournaments you then are eligible for those national opportunities.”
“It shifts your focus a little bit, but with the way our programs have competed in the past, hopefully we can navigate this transition process and figure out how to schedule in a way that we can set our self up for continued athletic success,” said Mosley.
Once ACU moves to Division I, it will become one of the smallest institutions in the league and in the entire DI landscape with an approximate enrollment of 4,600 students.
Mosley said size was not heavily discussed during the two year process of deciding to become a Division I school.
“The opportunities that await in Division I have nothing to do with size,” he said. “It has more to do with our mission and institutional alignment and our ability to maximize revenue streams in our market.”
“A lot of the focus was on how do we tailor a Division I program here at ACU and set it up in a way that we can sustain long term success. If you’re able to establish and have the support we have from alums, donors and corporate partners here in town it certainly makes it easier to navigate.”
Concerns about competing at the NCAA Division I level were always in the back of Mosley’s mind throughout this process.
“We haven’t been to Division I in a long time so you don’t know exacwtly how it’s going to play out,” he said. “I think I know based on the quality of the student-athletes we have as well as the coaches we have in place that we’ll be able to navigate it pretty well. We won’t know for sure until we jump in though.”
“No question, there’s going to be parts of our plan that we aren’t going to fully realize until we get out into year five or six,” he said. “It is a growing process. We’re not launching into this at levels right out of the gate because we wanted a plan that’s sustainable. I’m sure there will be some challenges but I’m confident in the leadership we have to be able to get through this.”
Head football coach Ken Collums has never been worried about competing at the new level.
“I don’t think there is any doubt we can be competitive,” he said. “We can be competitive right now. Now whether we would win every game, probably not because our depth isn’t near what it’s going to be in four years.”
“When you go up in levels your facing people that have more good players. As we go through this transition we’ll stair step it and be able to compete. The product we have here will attract good players.”
“The bottom line is football is football,” Collums said. “You have to get stops on defense, you better have a good quarterback those things don’t change whether you’re in the NFL or college. Southland is very similar to the Lone Star in that you better show up and play well or you’re not going to win.”
ACU does come into the Southland as one of the nation’s most-accomplished athletic programs. The ‘Cats have won 64 team national championships since 1952 and have 57 NCAA national championships, which ranks fourth nationally in total number of national team championships. Only Stanford University, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Southern California (USC) have more.
“I encourage our fans, students and alum to know that this is a process,” Mosley said. “The support we’ve been able to generate over the last eight to ten years by fans and people on our campus has been phenomenal. I’m sure we’ll continue to have people come to the plate and support us.”