Sports officials in bind after OVC rejection

The Lions play Delta State University during the final game of the season Nov. 26.

Due to the recent event of the Ohio Valley Conference choosing not to expand, UNA is left in a bind on what direction to take next in the move to Division I.

On Nov. 16, presidents of the OVC universities came to an agreement not to expand their league, leaving UNA wondering what it did wrong in trying to impress the conference.

“The report from the OVC was that UNA did everything correctly, and we are a fine university,” said Athletic Director Mark Linder. “It was more a decision that they were not in expansion mode.”

Ever since the decision was made to move to Division I, the OVC was clearly the No. 1 place to go to, and there is still some time for the university to change the minds of the OVC members.

“The OVC presidents will meet in February,” Linder said. “I don’t know if expansion will be on their agenda.”

The OVC includes one of UNA’s oldest rivals, Jacksonville State, and they are excited about the opportunity of possibly playing the Lions in the future.

“We think UNA would be really good for us and for the conference as a whole,” said Jacksonville State Athletic Director Warren Koegel. “I definitely would like to bring back that rivalry.”

Just because UNA was turned down by the OVC doesn’t mean that the OVC will not take it at a later date. Jacksonville State was actually turned down on its first attempt, making it regroup and fix its image.

“We tried to build our facilities, and increase our fundraising,” Koegel said. “As far as UNA is concerned, they need to continue to raise money, add a women’s sport as soon as possible and continue to talk to people, and maybe the OVC will open back up.”

The next choices for UNA if the OVC is set in stone with their position are the Southland Conference, Southern Conference and the Atlantic Sun, but those leagues give UNA a geographic disadvantage.

“We have started dialogue with the Southern, the Southland and the Atlantic Sun,” Linder said. “The Southern Conference has some natural rivals and is a very strong athletic conference. The Southland presents some geographic concerns but is a very strong league.”

While all this is going on, the current conference UNA is in, the Gulf South Conference, is hoping UNA reconsiders its plan of moving up to Division I.

“Obviously we want UNA to stay; we think they are a key member in this league, and we hope there is some rethinking in the athletics program about this,” said GSC Commissioner Nathan Salant.

Salant said that the GSC has made efforts to keep them, including letting the Lions play in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium and adding schools that are strong academically and athletically.

“There is nothing to be gained by pushing forward with an extensive adventure that will hurt the community (when) they have a good home in the GSC,” Salant said. “Student athletes deserve an opportunity to play for national championships. In a low tier Division I conference, they would never play for any except, once in a while, in football.”