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Date Posted: Wed, May 25 2005, 8:00:10
Subject: UCF article
LITTLE ROCK - Fans of University of Central Arkansas athletics may soon come to realize that Natchitoches is in Louisiana and Nacogdoches is in Texas.
Northwestern State is in Natchitoches and Stephen F. Austin is in Nacogdoches and both are in the Southland Conference, a likely league for UCA if the Conway school proceeds with plans to move up to Division I-AA.
Last weekend, UCA president Lu Hardin and athletic director Vance Strange were in Houston, meeting with Southland Conference presidents and a couple of athletic directors. Playing football as an independent in I-AA is a certain loser and joining a conference is only possible if a league needs teams.
The Missouri Valley, the Ohio Valley and the Sun Belt are also I-AA, but UCA has no plans to approach any other conference at this point.
In addition to Northwestern State and Stephen F. Austin, the Southland has four other football-playing schools - Sam Houston State, Texas State, Nicholls State and McNeese State. Tarleton State, Corpus Christi and Pan-American also made presentations to the Southland during the weekend, but only Tarleton plays football.
The meeting between Hardin, Strange and the Southland was much more than meet and greet. UCA submitted a 56-page paper with info about the school, including sections on academic standards, athletic history, the age and condition of on-campus facilities, the financial status of the athletic program, the graduation rate of student athletes and the commitment to gender equity. With the upcoming addition of women's track, UCA will have 14 sports - the minimum for Division I. A men's track program is also planned.
Specifically, the conference asked about media markets within a 75-mile radius, proximity to airports and other Southland schools, and patterns of attendance at athletic events - how many tickets are bought during the preseason, how many people pay for premium seating, tickets purchased by students, faculty and staff.
Hardin and Strange were given a 45-minute window and told to leave 15 minutes for questions and answers. Hardin opened the show and Strange closed it, ending with a picture of War Memorial Stadium and the promise that UCA would play one game a year in Little Rock to benefit Arkansas Children's Hospital.
UCA opens the 2005 season against I-AA Tennessee-Martin in Little Rock. Eastern New Mexico is up in 2006 and Delta State will follow. Once the major schools begin playing a 12th game, lining up a I-AA school will not be a black mark and Strange is ready and willing to get on the phone with the likes of Tulsa, SMU, and Rice and invite them to Little Rock.
The former head of the Department of Higher Education, Hardin easily handled questions about state funding for athletic programs in Arkansas.
After the presentation, the presidents went out of their way to be friendly. The league also reminded Hardin and Strange that Arkansas State University was a charter member of the SLC and indicated that it would be nice to again have a member school in Arkansas.
"It's an obvious choice," Strange said. "The Southland has been there for a long time. It's a very good organization and the presidents are very enthusiastic about their conference."
For the Southland, the next step is for school presidents to set a date for a Conway visit in the summer. Eventually, the NCAA also will visit. Meanwhile, Hardin is organizing an internal committee, likely to include members of the board of trustees.
Beginning July 1, UCA will have one year to decide whether to remain in Division II or move up.
Odds are UCA fans will find out about Huntsville and San Marcos, Texas, and Lake Charles and Thibodeaux, La., in addition to Natchitoches and Nacogdoches.
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