The reduction of travel costs and longterm stability are the major reasons that Central Baptist College has a new conference home.

The Mustang athletic teams will compete in the St. Louis-based American Midwest Conference of NAIA Division I beginning with the 2015-16 academic year.

"It’s a quality conference with some pretty good teams in every sport," said Lyle Middleton, CBC’s athletic director.

Lyon College and Williams Baptist are Arkansas members of the AMC, whose Southern portion also has Freed-Hardeman (Henderson, Tenn.) Other members are: Benedictine (Springfield, Ill.), Columbia College (Columbia, o.), Hannibal-LaGrange (Hannibal, Mo.), Harris-Stowe (St. Louis), Lindenwood (Belleville, Ill.), Missouri Baptist (St. Louis), Park University (Parkville, Mo., in the Kansas City Area), St. Louis College of Pharmacy, Stephens College (Columbia, Mo.), William Woods (Fulton, Mo.)

CBC is leaving the Midlands College Athletic Conference, another NAIA conference, that has institutions in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Iowa. After this season, the MCAC will have only four teams.

"The AMC is a very organized conference that offers a lot of stability and competitive and growth opportunities for us," said Middleton. "There will be some overnight travel costs because the basketball schedule is Thursday-Saturday. "But our longest trips will bre 7 to 7 1/2 hours compared to eight, 12 or 14 hours in the MCAC. And we will have short, up-and-back trips to Lyon and Williams. It will be less lost class time and our athletes won’t be getting back early Sunday morning, sometimes 6 a.m., on weekend trips. And we won’t have to leave early Thursday morning just go get halfway to some of our games.

"One downside of being in the same conference with Lyon (Batesville) and Williams Baptist (Walnut Ridge) is we compete for the same recruits. But it also allows us to establish competitive in-state rivalries, hopefully in a good way."

The Mustangs will begin AMC competition with fall sports in 2015, starting with men’s and women’s soccer, and volleyball. Central Baptist also offers wrestling, making the AMC a complete conference in wrestling, along with men’s and women’s basketball in the winter season.

In the spring season, Central Baptist will compete in men’s and women’s golf, as well as baseball and softball.

Most CBC teams will participate in a home-and-home schedule for most sports. Stephens College is a women’s institution and will participate in only women’s sports.

"The addition of Central Baptist strengthens our Southern footprint and our current sport sponsorship, puts us in position to explore championship sport growth, and brings another institution that has a strong commitment to the NAIA’s Champions of Character initiatives, as well as academic and athletic excellence," said AMC commissioner Will Wolper in a news release.

Wolper and other AMC representatives visited Central Baptist’s campus in February.

CBC was a Bronze Level honoree among NAIA Five-Star Champions of Character Institutions, earning 63 of the available 100 points on the Champions of Character scorecard in 2013-14. In the AMC, nine of the 13 current member institutions also earned the Bronze level.

CBC has an average ACT score of 20.5, with 47 majors and 24 minors among 858 students, 60-percent of which are athletes.

"It is an exciting time in the history of Central Baptist College Mustang athletics," said Central Baptist president Terry Kimbrow. "Joining the American Midwest Conference brings a new level of competition that will benefit our student-athletes and strengthen our overall athletic program."

Switching from an NAIA Division II conference to Division I will eventually double the maximum number of scholarships (six to 11) for basketball, Middleton said.

"We will do that gradually," he said. "As far as spending and competitivness, I’d say we are at the middle level or lower level of the league in most sports," he said. "But in a couple of sports, I think we can compete on the top end."

CBC will also maintain its dual membership with the the National Christian College Athletic Association and will be eligible for that organization’s national playoffs if it elects to participate in certain sports. The college will host a NCCCAA regional tournament May 13-16.