It amounted to Christmas in July for the University of Central Arkansas athletic department.
The official notice was something that had been dreamed and anticipated for a long time.
NCAA officials notified UCA officials this week that all of the university’s athletic teams will have full, active NCAA Division I status this season, meaning they will all be eligible for postseason play in both the Southland Conference and the national level and accompanying financial benefits. It concludes a five-year transition process from Division I that included multiple reports and administrative, procedural and technical benchmarks.
"To finally get the notice from the NCAA was probably more of a relief than anything," said Dr. Brad Teague, UCA’s athletic director. "This has been such a long process that it was almost anticlimactic to get the notice. It has been five years of checking, double-checking, assembling information and working on reports.
"This has been a long process which has strengthened our awareness and implementation of Division I rules on governance, academics, diversity, and student-athlete well-being. These are all key principles of D-I athletics.
"There are so many responsible for our successful reclassification from Division II to Division I. Certainly, our athletics administrative staff was heavily involved in the process, our coaches had to overcome many issues in dealing with the four years of transition and our campus was extremely supportive. We look forward to our active membership status and the opportunity to participate in postseason competition on the conference and NCAA level. This is an exciting time for our student-athletes and coaches."
The thorough reclassification process included requirements such as financial audits, rules compliance audits, annual reports, annual updated strategic plans and a 10-year athletics certification study.
"From the feedback we got along the way, we felt we were headed in the right direction," Teague said.
Tom Burnett, commissioner of the Southland Conference, offered his congratulations.
"This is a great moment for the University of Central Arkansas, its athletic program, and everyone involved in the university community," Burnett said in a prepared statement. "When the Southland Conference began reviewing membership possibilities with UCA in 2005, our presidents quickly realized the university’s obvious potential as a strong, competitive Division I program. Now, we are very pleased that the NCAA has seen the same qualities we discovered five years ago.
"On behalf of the other member institutions of the Southland Conference, it’s been a great pleasure working with and assisting the university during its divisional transition and we now look forward to UCA competing fully as a member of NCAA Division I. Congratulations to the UCA Board of Trustees, President Allen Meadors, Athletic Director Brad Teague, the UCA coaches, student-athletes, support staff and the tremendous fans and enthusiastic followers of the Bears and Sugar Bears for a great accomplishment."
"This final step to full D-I recognition is the result of a tremendous amount of work by Dr. Teague and the entire athletic department," Meadors said. "Our coaches have been outstanding in their support of the athletic administration during this transition period. I would also like to acknowledge the work of numerous individuals and offices throughout the UCA campus who assisted in bringing about this day. A special thanks to the UCA’s Board of Trustees for their support and encouragement."
The Bears and Sugar Bears have already tasted success at the Division I level. UCA’s football team finished in first place in the league with a 6-1 record in 2008 but was ineligible for postseason play and to be officially recognized as conference champions. The Bears nearly knocked off Hawaii in the season opener last fall and then recorded its first win over an Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team in Western Kentucky.
UCA’s volleyball team went 16-0 in Southland play last fall, after going 12-4 in 2008.The baseball Bears own wins over traditional powers Wichita State and Ole Miss in the past three seasons.
To recognize the completion of the reclassification process, the UCA Athletic Department will host a Division I active membership celebration reception at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at Buffalo Alumni Hall on the UCA campus.
(Steve East, UCA sports information director, contributed to this report)