By Pat Coleman
The banner on the top of the SCAC news page reads, “Welcome to the New SCAC” — and it’s hard to think otherwise. The Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference will have a whole new look in the fall of 2024. In addition to McMurry University, which was previously announced as a new member of the SCAC for that season, Concordia University (Texas) and University of the Ozarks will also be joining the conference.
All three schools are leaving the American Southwest Conference, which is practically hemorrhaging membership. Barring further additions, the ASC will be down to just six members from a number that is currently 10 and was 13 just four years ago.
Much of the discussion around the loss of ASC members has focused on football, where the conference will have just four playing members when the changes all go through, but now, with Concordia and Ozarks also leaving, the viability of the ASC as a whole has to be considered. With just six members, the conference will be at its bare minimum requirement for automatic bids to the NCAA Division III postseason, and that’s only in sports where all six remaining schools — East Texas Baptist, Hardin-Simmons, Howard Payne, LeTourneau, Mary Hardin-Baylor and Texas-Dallas — sponsor a team.
Meanwhile, the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference is sitting pretty. With this move, the conference showed the ability to react quickly to membership changes. Just a little over two months after SCAC member schools Trinity (Texas) and Southwestern announced their departure for the Southern Athletic Association, the SCAC has two new members on board.
“We are overjoyed that Concordia University Texas and University of the Ozarks have agreed to become part of the SCAC family,” said commissioner Dwayne Hanberry. “Our membership is very familiar with both institutions and believe the two will seamlessly fit into the culture of our conference – a culture whose primary commitment is to broad-based athletic programs, gender equity, and the campus integration of student-athletes.”
One thing missing from this description of conference membership is a facet which had been part of the SCAC identity for decades, and that is a commitment to high standards of academics. Trinity and Southwestern think of themselves as committed to academics, as do a large number of the schools which split from the conference in 2011.
The addition of Ozarks gives the SCAC another school on its eastern border, as Ozarks, in Clarksville, Arkansas, is five hours north of Centenary (La.). Concordia, which is in Austin, Texas, adds to the cluster of SCAC schools south of Dallas, which includes St. Thomas (Texas) in the Houston area and Schreiner and Texas Lutheran near San Antonio.
The fall 2024 membership for the SCAC, if nothing else changes, will include Austin College, Centenary, Colorado College, Concordia, McMurry, Schreiner, St. Thomas (Texas), Texas Lutheran, University of Dallas and University of the Ozarks.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to join the SCAC and to renew some old rivalries with several former ASC members,” said University of the Ozarks athletic director Jimmy Clark. “The SCAC gives us a stable NCAA Division III conference whose member colleges fit us better in regards to enrollment size and facilities. Our coaches and student-athletes are excited about competing against new D-III programs and traveling to new areas.”
The word “stable” in Clark’s quote jumps right out. Meanwhile, the ASC showed its commissioner the door two months ago, after Amy Carlton devoted nearly 17 years to the conference as commissioner and 21 years altogether. Nobody has joined the ASC as a full member since Belhaven did in 2015, and Belhaven has already withdrawn.
If there is anyone in the pipeline for the ASC, it would be best for an announcement to come swiftly, before the remaining schools start looking for another solution.
Pat Coleman had a long discussion with Anthony Grassi of Collegiate Sports Connect about the D-III landscape in April, before this news broke. Here’s more detail: