FRISCO, Texas — The Southland Conference continued its rapid expansion Saturday, adding its third new member in a week in Abilene Christian University, a fomer charter member.

ACU will rejoin the Southland on July 1, 2013 (along with Incarnate Word and University of New Orleans) and will also begin the move from NCAA Division II to I at the same time.

ACU was one of five institutions that formed the Southland Conference on March 15, 1963, and its storied athletics program was a part of the league until 1972-73 when it departed for its current home, the Lone Star Conference.

When it returns to the league, Abilene Christian will participate in 16 of the Southland’s 17 sponsored championships, including men’s sports basketball, baseball, cross country, football, golf, tennis, and indoor and outdoor track and field. On the women’s side, ACU will compete in basketball, cross country, soccer, softball, tennis, indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball.

Abilene Christian rejoins the Southland as one of the nation’s most-accomplished athletic programs. The Wildcats have won 64 team national championships since 1952, including an astounding 59 in men’s and women track and field. Among the entire NCAA membership, ACU’s total of 57 NCAA team championships ranks fourth nationally, only behind UCLA, Stanford and Southern California.

Since joining the Lone Star Conference in 1973, the program has captured 163 team championships in league competition. The Wildcats won three league titles and three NCAA regional championships in 2011-12. Abilene Christian is the only NCAA Division II member to finish in the top 15 of the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup, awarded to the top athletics program in each division, in all 17 years the award has existed.

ACU’s football team has played in the last six NCAA Division II national playoffs, and running back Bernard Scott, a former University of Central Arkansas standout and currently a member of the NFL Cincinnati Bengals, won the 2008 Harlon Hill Trophy as the top national player in the division. Head football coach of the Wildcats is Ken Collums, a former UCA quarterback and assistant coach.