Minutes after the Western Athletic Conference announced its expansion Thursday to add five schools and add football back, it was confirmed UCA is headed to the Atlantic Sun.
In a new release published by fellow Southland Conference foe Northwestern State University athletics, it became apparent that Central Arkansas was officially on the move as the statement read five schools were departing from the Southland Conference.
The WAC announced additions of Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin as well as Southern Utah.
ACU, Lamar, SHSU and SFA are all Southland schools, which left UCA as it had been rumored since mid-November.
The statement released by Northwestern State says, “Central Arkansas stated earlier that it would move from the Southland to the Atlantic Sun Conference.”
Statements from Southland commissioner Tom Burnett also addressed the departing teams Thursday, saying “some Southland Conference member institutions have actively considered opportunities elsewhere, and that will lead to league realignment in the coming year… We fully understand the value they bring to another association, and we wish them success and more of the accolades they realized during their long-standing membership here.”
At this point, the secret was out that UCA was officially on the move.
But, further and more concrete confirmation came from UCA athletic director Brad Teague as he explained UCA’s move to the ASUN.
“There will be a lot of changes throughout the college landscape among conferences,” Teague said in a radio interview. “We kind of saw that coming. A lot of it was COVID related, just the fact that we can’t get together and see each other face-to-face. It’s always Zoom. I think that further divided folks that weren’t like-minded like these other institutions.
“We knew that some of these Texas institutions were looking for something different. A few of them struck up this WAC conversation and it bore roots and this is where we are today. We could see this coming and obviously if you’ve deduced that as part of the (WAC) release, we’re not a part of the Southland Conference either. We’ve gone from 13 to now eight schools in the Southland Conference. Those four Texas schools are leaving and we’re leaving and going east. We’re going to form the new ASUN football league. That’s the plan for Central Arkansas.”
Teague said the plan is to have six schools in a newly formed ASUN football conference, which would be enough to earn one of the FCS automatic qualifiers.
While Teague confirmed current ASUN members North Alabama and Kennesaw State would be included within the football conference, there were likely three others to come along.
Two of those schools could be Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State, as the two schools have also been rumored alongside UCA in a move to the ASUN.
“In the FCS, you have to have six DI institutions playing to get an automatic qualification getting to the national playoffs,” Teague said. “We should have six moving in. I can’t tell you who they are right now because some of these institutions are having to go in front of their board of trustees to make this happen.
“I can tell you Kennesaw State and North Alabama are members of the ASUN. They play football in the Big South as affiliate members. Those two will be a part of the ASUN and we’ve got three others that should be joining us and maybe more after that. We kind of feel like once we announce this partnership, which we hope is coming either late-January or early February that will have other institutions that will be a part of it. It’s all public schools and it’s all big brands. It’s going to be a pretty strong football league and we’re pretty excited about it.”
With ASUN member Liberty, who plays football at the FBS level as an independent, will there be a possible transition for the other ASUN teams to move up eventually?
“As you know, Liberty is in the ASUN and they play FBS independent,” Teague said. “We know there’s an avenue for those of us to go FBS if we want to do so. Let’s assume that not all six want to do it. We’re hopeful that the ASUN six will take the ASUN to the FBS and Liberty will join us. If not all six don’t want to do that then we know that a number of us can do that and be independent. Even though we’re independent, we have each other to play, so it’s not like we would be without schedules and it would be cumbersome to play. I think the timeline, I’m hopeful that that could happen within two or three years.”
Teague said the move isn’t just about football, though.
He talked at length about basketball as well.
“Football will get the most attention, but otherwise everyone wants to improve in basketball,” he said. “The WAC’s RPI as a conference was a little better than the Southland Conference and the ASUN is better than both, so we’ll both see competitive leagues that we’re moving into with basketball.”
For UCA, it’s been a rough ride over the past calendar year as the athletic department and former men’s basketball coach Russ Pennell agreed to part ways, COVID hit to interrupt basketball season, social justice movements, fall sports were canceled and now the school is changing conferences.
Many suggested that the move for these five schools departing the Southland Conference would take until the summer of 2022, Teague said the remaining Southland schools wanted to start fresh for fall 2021.
“Those four Texas schools notified the Southland Conference they were going to leave in 2022. The board of directors of the remaining eight schools decided to rip that Band-Aid off and make it happen now. This is it for all five of us this spring.”
With that, UCA’s time in the Southland Conference will end with the Southland Conference baseball Tournament in late May.