As the Southland Conference gains a new member in Oral Roberts University, the University of Central Arkansas gains a viable travel partner.
When Texas State and Texas-San Antonio announced plans to leave the conference, the league rearranged its travel partners for sports other than football. UCA was paired with Texas-Arlington, which soon announced it was leaving the league.
Tuesday, the SLC announced that ORU, rich in tradition in a number of sports, will leave the Summit League and join the SLC on July 1, 2012 and begin official conference competition for the 2012-13 season. The Golden Eagles are the natural replacement to UTA as UCA’s travel partner.
"It’s really a win-win situation for us," said Brad Teague, UCA’s athletic director. "Oral Roberts brings prestige to the conference with a longstanding history of competitive teams and championships in several sports. It gives the league a solid, well-respected Division I institution with a national reputation.
"And we are not isolated on the northern edge of the conference any more. Oral Roberts fits right into our scheduling model and will create a seamless transition in our scheduling. We had been working hard on on scheduling since UTA left and we couldn’t have found a better fit with their proximity and the sports they offer.
"They also play men’s soccer and in leaving the Summit League, they plan to try to join the Missouri Valley Conference as an affiliate member, which whould also be good for us (UCA is in its second year as an affiliate member of the MVC for men’s soccer)."
And the Tulsa, Okla., university becomes the closest SLC member to UCA.
"It will be great for our fans," Teague said. "Tulsa is a nice city, a good destination city for our supporters. It’s interstate all the way, so you couldn’t ask for a better fit for a Division I school accessible to our fan base."
SLC and Oral Roberts officials made the announcement Tuesday in Frisco, Texas, conference headquarters.
The ORU Golden Eagles will participate in 15 of the Southland’s 17 sponsored championships, including men’s sports basketball, baseball, cross country, golf, tennis, and indoor and outdoor track and field. On the women’s side, ORU will compete in basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, tennis, indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball.
"Our number one consideration in this and all decisions is the well-being of our student-athletes. We look forward to being a competitive member of such an excellent conference right here in our own neighborhood," said Mark Rutland, the ORU president, at a news conference. "This change in geography that the Southland Conference provides us will greatly benefit our athletes."
"The Southland Conference presidents have studied the possibilities of membership addition in the past few months," said Southland commissioner Tom Burnett.
"From the beginning of the process, the Board has only shown interest in institutions that clearly bring added value to the league. That includes strong academic performance, athletic competitiveness and achievement, excellent playing facilities, geographic fit, media market size and presence in the market, and strong fan support. ORU excels in all of these categories, and this was evident as we began studying potential members."
ORU will be the first Oklahoma-based institution in the Southland’s 48-year history, and will be the league’s first private institution since charter members Trinity University and Abilene Christian University departed the conference in early 1970s. Tulsa is the nation’s 46th largest city with a population of 391,906, and the greater metropolitan area includes approximately one million people. The area is also the 59th largest television market in the United States.
"Our league’s geography provides travel and recruiting advantages in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and now, Oklahoma, and our warm weather fosters competitive and scheduling benefits for our teams," Burnett said. "Major airports in our region also facilitate reasonable and convenient air travel throughout the conference for our teams and fans when necessary."
The Golden Eagles have been highly competitive across the board since joining the Summit League in 1997.
ORU has won nine Summit League Commissioner’s Cups, signifying all-around excellence, in 14 years, and the Golden Eagles have totaled 75 NCAA tournament appearances in that time. The athletic program has had 68 All-America selections since 1998, as well as an indoor and outdoor track national champion and two Olympians.
In men’s basketball, the Golden Eagles can boast defeating a team from a BCS or powerful basketball conference every year since 2002-03, including wins over No. 3 Kansas in 2006, No. 13 New Mexico in 2009, as well as other recent victories over Arkansas, Utah, Georgetown, Oklahoma State, Stanford and Missouri. The program has 13 postseason tournament trips in its history, including five NCAA tournaments and an Elite Eight appearance in 1974.
In women’s basketball, the ORU program has advanced to five NCAA tournaments since 1999, and the team earned a WNIT appearance in 2010 after winning the Summit League title.
In baseball, ORU has made 23 NCAA regional appearances and has won 14 consecutive Summit League championships. The 1978 team advanced to the College World Series in Omaha, and the baseball program has played in seven regional final games since 2002, winning a regional title in 2006.
Other ORU sports have seen a considerable amount of competitive success, including the women’s volleyball team that advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight in 1995. The men’s golf program has a strong tradition with 12 NCAA tournament appearances, four top 10 finishes in the NCAA championship, including national runnerup in 1981. The women’s golf program has won 14 consecutive Summit League championships and 11 consecutive NCAA appearances.
Since 1982, ORU track and field athletes have claimed 55 All-America honors, and the program boasts 106 NCAA championship qualifiers during the last 16 years. That includes 2008 indoor and outdoor 400-meters national champion Andretti Bain, who went on to win a silver medal as a member of the Bahamas’ 4x400 relay team.
ORU’s athletic facilities rank among the nation’s best, and the university has recently invested resources into renovations at the 10,575-seat Mabee Center, home of Golden Eagle basketball, and at the 2,418-seat Johnson Stadium, home to ORU baseball. Additional improvements and new construction has also benefitted volleyball, soccer, tennis, golf and track facilities.
Academically, ORU sports teams have earned a 3.0 or better grade point average in 13 of the last 14 years. In the NCAA Academic Performance Program, Golden Eagle athletic teams have excelled, none are currently penalized, and all but one team performing significantly higher that the new proposed penalty cut rate of 930.
Founded in 1963, Oral Roberts University serves 3,259 students on its 263-acre campus in south Tulsa.