UNA to join ASun

Quin Norris, Sports Editor

On January 21, 2021 the Atlantic Sun Conference (ASun) announced that it will be starting its own football conference for the 2022 season. 

The teams that they announced for the beginning of this new experiment will be Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, and UNA. 

For UNA, this means they will be leaving the Big South to play in a more difficult conference and will be joined by Big South powerhouse Kennesaw State. The good news for Lions fans however is that they will now play rival Jacksonville State every season without having to use an out of conference game to do so. It will also add more importance to a game that many fans want to see going forward. 

“I am beyond excited for the potential to play Jacksonville State every year in a game that will now have added stakes to it,” said Chase Glover, UNA junior. “I think the thing we have missed the most as a program is having a clear and present rival for the football program.” 

The excitement for this news is not just limited to the campus of UNA though. 

Jacksonville State student Rachel Veal stated that Jacksonville cannot wait to join a new conference down here. 

“We have got bored with the old conference, [Ohio Valley Conference)],” Veal said. “It will be nice to have some opponents closer to home to go and watch us play against.”

This new conference will be a challenge though for the Lions as many of these teams they will now be playing against have had significant success in the FCS for a good amount of time now. Especially Eastern Kentucky, Central Arkansas, and Jacksonville State. 

“The new conference will not be easy for us by any means,” Glover said. “In my opinion the easiest win on our schedule in conference will be a team like Kennesaw State which does not fare well for the team given that we are not quite up to the playing level of a team like Kennesaw. At least we haven’t been in our previous efforts against them.” 

However, not everyone views the step up in competition as a negative for the team. 

“The increase in competition for us will be great,” Former punter Brooks Blaxton said. “The team wants to become competitive at the FCS level and the best way to do that is to play tougher competition and this new conference will do that for us. Instead of getting easy wins against a team like Gardner-Webb instead we will have to play and overall higher level of teams. I can’t wait to see how we fair against these teams.” 

However, this plan is not just for the FCS as the Atlantic Sun Conference does have plans to take their football conference to the FBS level which would mean a few things for the Lions football program. First, the team and more importantly the university would have a lot larger reputation around their region of the United States. Second, the team will never win another national championship as long as the college football landscape stays the way it is as there is little to no chance a team like UNA will ever defeat the Alabama, Clemson, or Ohio States of the college football landscape. 

“I think it would be awesome to see UNA make the eventual push to the FBS,” said Glover when asked about the potential move to the FBS. “It would be sad to never see us lift a national championship, but the reputation and money that would come from the move would be huge for the team and or university.” 

A major development to watch would be that of Liberty. If the ASun does make the jump to the FBS would conference member Liberty leave the independent life to join the ASun conference in football. 

 “I think they would join,” Glover said. “Being an independent team is difficult. Especially in the FBS. I would hope they would join to add some legitimacy to the conference as well as they have had some serious success in the FBS this past season.” 

Overall, the moves that UNA and the ASun are making prove that the university is serious about its own expansion and footprint and they are using the football team as the flag bearer in their future endeavors.