BJU’s intercollegiate sports teams are moving closer toward becoming full-standing members of NCAA Division III, potentially by 2023.
Although more work needs to be done, Director of Athletics Neal Ring believes the athletics program has already reached several important milestones in the journey to joining NCAA Division III.
“After Dr. Pettit became the new president, we met to discuss the athletics [department’s] future,” he said. “I outlined our options, from staying where we were all the way to move to NCAA Division I,” he said. “Dr. Pettit asked me to come back with some recommendations instead of listing potential options.”
Ring said a working group that included members of every campus department was formed. The group evaluated over 50 other colleges in Division III and based on that study, the committee ultimately recommended that BJU join NCAA Division III.
“Part of that had to do with the academic nature of NCAA Division III schools and with our own culture,” Ring said. “The group made the recommendation, which I passed to Dr. Pettit, who agreed with moving that direction.”
Ring then presented the recommendation to the BJU Board of Trustees and received unanimous approval to pursue NCAA Division III.
The University applied in January 2018 for exploratory status with the NCAA. Then in 2019, the University asked for an additional exploratory year before being accepted as a provisional year one NCAA Division III school on Sept. 1, 2020.
“For 2021, now that we’re a Division III institution, we’re under the same reporting guidelines as the rest of the NCAA Division III,” Ring said.
Ring needs to submit a large volume of paperwork to meet these requirements.
As a provisional year two member, BJU must operate as an NCAA Division III institution. The NCAA insignia will appear on the basketball court and the Alumni Stadium booth. The only opportunities that BJU cannot yet participate in are a specific conference and postseason play for the NCAA.
“Once we achieve our full standing as an NCAA Division III member, then we can pursue a conference, and participate in postseason play for both conference and national titles if we earn the opportunity,” Ring said.
As far as the athletic program’s future in Division III, Ring said the goal is to be in a Division III conference going into the 2023 fall season.
Once we achieve our full standing as an NCAA Division III member, then we can pursue a conference, and participate in postseason play for both conference and national titles if we earn the opportunity. — Neal Ring
“The president and I are working to build relationships with presidents and athletic directors of other Division III schools because ultimately it’s the presidents that make the decision if we may join a conference,” he said.
“We’re trying to build relationships, so when we’re shown as a potential member, people know us as an institution and what our athletic program is about and can vote with an understanding of who we are,” Ring said.
He also said they are in conversation with conference commissioners to see what fits best and asking if other colleges have any questions.
“We are hopeful as we go forward that we will remain a good candidate for the NCAA, as they have assured us that we are an excellent candidate,” he said.
BJU’s student-athletes are optimistic about the changes and the program’s future plans.
Adrian Lasval, a sophomore criminal justice major on the baseball team, said he feels prepared for the transition. “For the baseball team specifically, I think the change won’t be as hard, because last year was our first season, … and coaches had started recruiting and getting us to play like a DIII school, so the switch might feel a bit easier,” he said.
Lasval added that since the competition is different, he believes it will be good for the university and for the athletes because better competition will bring in better players to recruit.
Anna Grace Abrams, a senior political science major on the women’s soccer team, said, “I think we can handle [the switch], based on play style and our players. … I think this will help us recruit more athletes in the sense that’s what we’re going to need [in the future].”
Overall, Abrams, who transferred from Liberty University for her senior year, thinks the switch will be positive and that the team is on the right track.
“I played for three years in a DI program [at Liberty University], so, I am personally excited the team I’m joining is already starting to move up and compete at the next level,” she said. “And I know the other girls are too.”