As the athletic department moves into new territory with Div. I athletics, the student body needs to be aware of some things that will be different in the coming years.
The first and probably most obvious change is the new opponents ACU will be playing. ACU has already taken down Texas Tech in volleyball. The women’s basketball team is taking on Texas Christian University later this year, and the men’s team is going to face off against Md., Iowa and several other basketball powerhouses.
The football team is scheduled to play against Air Force and Troy in 2014. The baseball team plays against Texas A&M, Arkansas and several other big name programs in the spring.
The ACU community will see their team on ESPN this year and for years to come, which means that the entire dynamic of ACU athletics has changed.
Suddenly, ACU can be found on the ESPN app, complete with scoring updates and logos. In a few short years, the Wildcats could be found in March Madness.
The cult-like followings of many larger schools will work their way to Abilene to take in games, and ACU will be more than “our dear old Christian college.” ACU itself will gain a following from people that have never even dreamed of coming to Texas.
ACU is quickly becoming a million-dollar brand. The new uniforms are just the start of the transformation to a different kind of program. This program has a new look, a new feel and a new type of athlete competing.
The culture of Div. II athletics is sometimes filled with players that are happy to get a shot at college ball and maybe earn a partial scholarship in the process. Several ACU players in the last decade have embodied a Div. I athlete, but that will become more common.
Players such as Eric Lawton, who led the basketball team in scoring last season, will migrate overseas to play professional basketball. Tennis players such as Hans Hach and golfers such as Alex Carpenter will become more common. Football players such as Danieal Manning, Jonny Knox and Daryl Richardson that make a living playing football on Sundays will become more common as well. More runners may even represent their country in the Olympics.
Athletes that are here to play sports and get an education are needed to keep ACU’s winning tradition alive. The Wildcats are transitioning from athletes that just want to play in college to players with aspirations of making a living playing their sport.
ACU is moving away from student athletes that focus only on their academics. The athletic department needs players that have devoted their entire lives for one chance at professional sports while simultaneously working hard enough to graduate on time. That type of person is rare and needed to have sustained success as a Div. I program.
The youth movement that is sweeping the athletic program now is necessary. Coaches need to bring in players that are ready to compete at a higher level. These players need to be completely bought into the coach’s specific style and be willing to make tremendous sacrifices in order to participate in Div. I athletics. In each and every sport, the Wildcats are looking for players that shatter the mold and change the culture of ACU sports from solid to exceptional.
ACU’s athletic programs need to build for the future, which means that they will be adjusting their rosters to prepare for the new level of competition and commitment that Div. I athletics takes.
The Wildcats have always won. In fact, they are one of the five most accomplished programs in NCAA history. Yet the move to Div. I opens ACU to another level of competition and demands another level of excellence.
As the ACU community looks around at the changing landscape of ACU athletics, keep a couple of things in mind: First, the move to Div. I brings notoriety to the university that is extraordinarily valuable. Second, change is necessary in order to adapt to a new level of competition while maintaining success.