Division I move set

by Sports Editor Jacob Cole

With North Alabama joining the ASUN Dec. 6, 2016, the Lions will move to Division I starting in the 2018-19 season.

One year remains before the Division I move, the Lions will look to finish their Gulf South Conference playing days the right way. With the move imminent to UNA, here are some tidbits about the move.

While the move will have some early effects on students, professors and other community members, the move to Division I will also add revenue for local business with more opportunities as well. With the Shoals area growing rapidly, adding a Division I university will attract more people to the area.

Another hot button issue is how will this change the school and what effects will this have on the student. Attendance and tuition will raise due to the move, but the opportunities will grow in staggering numbers once the move is complete. New programs will be offered to UNA students and improvements will be on the way for the school.

Shoals sports fans will have a lot to look forward to in the coming years with the Lions transitioning to Division I. Here are some things to consider when watching the Lions play in the coming years.

With the ASUN not sponsoring football, the Lions football team will participate in the Big South conference. UNA will join Charleston Southern, Liberty University, as the most recognizable teams, and four other teams in the Big South conference. The Lions will not be able to compete in the Big South until the 2019 football season. When the 2019 season starts, the Lions will be able to fully compete in the Big South Conference.  

Another major storyline to look for once the Lions move to Division I is the rivalry with in-state Jacksonville State. The Lions and Gamecocks played an annual rivalry until JSU moved to Division I. With the Lions move to Division I, the rivalry with JSU can continue.

The ASUN conference hosts a multitude of sports and has teams like Florida Gulf Coast, Lipscomb and six other schools.

Some big names out of the ASUN conference include Florida Gulf Coast. FGCU has made the NCAA Basketball Tournament three years (2013, 2016, 2017). The Eagles turned March Madness on its head in 2013 when the Eagles went to the sweet sixteen. FGCU goes by the name “Dunk City” after its electric dunks in upset wins in the 2013 tourney.

Yes, UNA fans that means the Lions can make the NCAA tournament.

Before UNA can make the the tournament, the Lions will have to go through a four-year period in which the Lions are not allowed to participate in postseason play. This four-year postseason ban is to get the Lions acclimated to the Division I landscape. During this four-year period the Lions can compete for ASUN conference titles in all sports. Once the four years are over, UNA will have the opportunity to compete in all postseason play.

Other storylines to watch out for could be the possibility for UNA to play Division I Football Bowl Series teams. FBS teams are teams in one of the five Power Five conferences that include the SEC, ACC, Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12. SEC powerhouses Alabama and Auburn classify as FBS opponents. All sports will look to play tougher opponents once the move is finalized. Playing high profile games gains recognition and a big payday for the UNA football team. Playing tougher FBS opponents will let UNA receive payouts for coming to play these FBS teams.

Along with playing FBS teams, UNA will have more televised games when the move is final. While some games are on local TV or streaming services for the Lions, the move to Division I will enhance the opportunity to play in front of a nationally televised audience.

The highly anticipated move to Division I will have fans and students excited. One more year to go and North Alabama Lions will be Division I.