ASC adding Belhaven, McMurry

Belhaven men's basketball was selected to the 2014 NAIA Division I national tournament.
Belhaven athletics photo

American Southwest Conference officials announced March 13 the addition of McMurry and Belhaven to its membership. The announcement was made by Rod Mabry, president of the University of Texas at Tyler and chair of the ASC Council of Presidents.

McMurry will rejoin the American Southwest Conference after a two-year absence, during which it was pursuing Division II affiliation. Belhaven, a member of the NAIA, is beginning the process of changing its affiliation to NCAA Division III. The exact ASC admittance date for each institution is contingent upon their date of successful admittance by the NCAA into the required Division III membership program. The two additions will raise the American Southwest Conference membership to 13 institutions.

Each has football, which will be needed to retain the conference's automatic bid in that sport. The departure of Mississippi College to Division II following this season means the ASC will be one program short of the necessary seven and would lose its automatic bid in the 2016 football season.

"The American Southwest Conference presidents are pleased to welcome both McMurry University and Belhaven University to our conference membership," said Mabry. "The pending membership expansion will strengthen our conference in a number of ways and will benefit their student-athletes as well as current ASC student-athletes with improved conference scheduling opportunities. We look forward to renewing and initiating spirited athletic competition and rivalries with both institutions."

McMurry and Belhaven each support athletics programs that fit with those sponsored by the American Southwest Conference, including sports that will bolster overall ASC sponsorship numbers in men's and women's golf, football, and men's and women's track and field. Postseason championship opportunities will be enhanced along with regular-season opportunities.

"Inclusion of McMurry and Belhaven continues the American Southwest Conference mission of providing an environment for learning, competition and cooperative efforts within our membership," said Amy Carlton, ASC commissioner. "The membership additions create an occasion for our administrators to revisit season scheduling and postseason tournament models for potential adjustments where we maximize conference scheduling, maintain in-region Division III non-conference opportunities, and reduce stress on missed class time and travel costs."

One of the eight founding members of the American Southwest Conference in May 1996, McMurry left the conference in June 2012 seeking to reclassify to NCAA Division II. In late January 2014, president Sandra S. Harper and the University's Board of Trustees announced that McMurry would withdraw from the Division II membership process and seek return to Division III affiliation.

"McMurry University is delighted to rejoin the American Southwest Conference. Commissioner Carlton and the American Southwest Conference presidents have been very supportive in our effort to compete in NCAA Division III," stated Harper. "The ASC invitation is one of the major steps in crafting our scholar-athlete program to fit with our institutional mission and centennial vision. We look forward to the competition and the camaraderie of the ASC."

During its previous 16 years as a member of the American Southwest Conference, McMurry won two NCAA Division III national titles (men's track and field 2008, '12), and collected 41 ASC conference championships. Since leaving the ASC, McMurry athletic programs have competed in the Division II Heartland Conference and Lone Star Conference. 

McMurry offers 19 intercollegiate athletics programs, 10 men and nine women, including baseball, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's cross country, football, men's and women's golf, men's and women's soccer, men's and women's swimming and diving, men's and women's tennis, men's and women's track and field (indoor and outdoor), and women's volleyball.

Belhaven was accepted into the 2014-15 NCAA Division III exploratory program and the University's Board of Trustees unanimously approved application for NCAA Division III membership during its Feb. 28 meeting.

"I'm thrilled that after extensive study and evaluation, our Board has determined that Belhaven's goals for providing a quality experience for our student-athletes will best be matched in the future by the priorities of NCAA Division III," said Belhaven president Roger Parrott. "We could not have a better new home than the American Southwest Conference. The character of the schools and the commitment to student-athletes blends seamlessly with Belhaven's priorities, and I've been especially thankful for how welcoming the Presidents of the ASC have been to Belhaven.

"We look forward to our move into the NCAA Division III, which blends a commitment to quality academics into our student's experience, while providing us tough competition against some of the best known small colleges and universities in America."

Coincidentally, Belhaven football is coached by Hal Mumme, the well-traveled coach who led McMurry to the 2011 playoffs.

The 2014-15 academic year will be Belhaven's final year of NAIA membership and competition in the Southern States Athletic Conference and the Mid-South Conference (football). The Blazers have posted three NAIA national titles, two in men's soccer (1992, 2012) and one in men's tennis (1983). The Blazers have earned conference championships and made NAIA national tournament appearances in seven different sports. Belhaven offers 15 intercollegiate athletics programs, eight men's and seven women's, including baseball, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's cross country, football, men's golf, men's and women's soccer, softball, men's and women's tennis, men's and women's track and field, and women's volleyball.

They will join Concordia (Texas), East Texas Baptist, Hardin-Simmons, Howard Payne, LeTourneau, Louisiana College,  Hardin-Baylor, University of the Ozarks, Sul Ross State, UT-Dallas and UT-Tyler. UC Santa Cruz is an affiliate ASC member in women's golf.