UNA accepts Division I athletics invitation

University President Kenneth Kitts (left) and Atlantic Sun Conference Commissioner Ted Gumbart shake hands to confirm UNA’s partnership with the ASUN Dec. 6 in the Guillot University Center. The Lions will participate in Division I athletics starting in fall 2018.

The University of North Alabama settled the rumors today once and for all.

UNA board of trustees voted unanimously Dec. 6 on its acceptance of an invitation to join the Atlantic Sun Conference and reclassify as an NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision member, effective in fall 2018.

“What a great day for UNA,” said UNA Director of Athletics Mark Linder. “This is a moment we will look back on as a transformational (moment) in school history.” 

The move to Division I was in the works for several years. The board of trustees voted 6-3 in favor of pursuing reclassification in 2011. However, the university could not secure a conference for transition.

Linder said in a meeting with the Student Government Association Dec. 1 that the athletics department reached out to the Ohio Valley Conference, which includes regionally close schools such as Tennessee-Martin and Jacksonville State, but the conference was uninterested in adding more schools.

The ASUN began courting UNA during this time, but since the conference does not sponsor football, talks between the two parties stalled, he said.

Then, the ASUN announced Sept. 6 a partnership with the Big South Conference for current or future ASUN members that sponsor scholarship football will automatically be admitted as associate members for football.

This gave UNA an applicable home at the Division I FCS level after five years of searching. The football program will officially join the Big South in the 2019 season.

Current ASUN schools include Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville University, Kennesaw State, Lipscomb, New Jersey Institute of Technology, North Florida, South Carolina-Upstate and Stetson.

The current Big South football members are Charleston Southern, Gardner-Webb, Liberty, Kennesaw State, Presbyterian and Monmouth. UNA will join Kennesaw State as the only schools to participate in both conferences.

The Flor-Ala will update as new information becomes available.

Note: Student writer Madison Parham assisted in compiling information for this story.