Earlier this summer, the Pioneers athletics program was granted approval to become a part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Div. II.
The switch is a four-year process that will start taking place this year and continue until 2013-2014 when Malone’s membership will become official. Many coaches are excited to go Div. II, but do understand that this transition will not be easy.
“I’m really excited about the new challenge that lies before us; I think this is a God-opportunity,” said Pioneers volleyball head coach Tanya Hockman. “I’m not naive enough to think this will be an easy three year transition, but I believe it will be a great opportunity and challenge for Malone.”
The switch to Div. II will bring more notoriety and a higher of level of competition than these athletes and coaches have ever previously experienced.
“We’ll have better competition, a tougher schedule and we’ll have to work harder to succeed,” said freshman volleyball player Ali Kirby.
In preparation for the official status in 2013, the school will be competing against NCAA Div. I and II schools in the coming years. For example, this year the Pioneers men’s basketball team will play both Youngstown State University and Finley University.
The belief among the athletic department staff is that the expectations for the university at the Div. II level will have to be realistic. Considering the level of play will be up a notch, the university may struggle in some sports in the beginning while excelling in others.
“From a fan’s perspective, it will be much more exciting to get behind your team,” said Athletic Director Charlie Grimes. “To go against these other larger institutions it will bind us together because we will, in this student body’s life, be the underdogs.”
The athletic department views this as an opportunity for the athletes and coaches to compete at their highest level while being able to submit themselves to be used by God to show “Christ’s Kingdom First” on a national level.
“A term that we are using here in our department is Christmanship,” said Grimes. “Not just sportsmanship because that just means you are going to be fair and follow the rules but even the world can do that. Christmanship means let’s play in a way that can honor Christ or play as if Christ was playing.”
There are about 300 schools in NCAA Div. II but only about 12 of those are distinctively evangelical Christian colleges. Grimes said he views this as an opportunity for Malone because it puts the school in a market that may be desperate to see Christ’s love. The goal and prayer of Grimes and the athletic department is to “not let God down” as the school displays what Christ is all about.
Over the next few years, the Pioneers will attempt to become a member of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC). As a result, the Pioneers will gain new rivalries with teams such as Tiffin University (A Div. II School that football recently competed against.) On the other hand, Walsh University is trying to make the move to the GLIAC as well to keep that traditional rivalry in place.
Over the next few years, the belief among many coaches is that recruiting will become easier with a more recognizable name such as the NCAA.
“I am excited about recruiting because right now about 30 to 40% of the time parents and students don’t know what NAIA is,” said Pioneers women’s golf coach Heather Grovemiller. “When we say NCAA, they know what range of competition and what range of scholarships comes with that, and I think it does look a lot more impressive to a potential recruit to say we’re NCAA.”
In terms of scholarships and funds given out to programs there will not be any considerable change. However, there are some sports whose budget will have to slightly decrease to meet NCAA criteria while that money may go to another sport or elsewhere.
“We may take this money and give it to another sport or we may give it back to the institution to bring general students,” said Grimes. “We are going to work together with the university because we are not an entity of our own here. But, there will be some balancing and some reallocating of scholarship dollars in order to become Div. II compliant and to be as competitive as we can.”
Chris Sherwood Sports Editor and contributing writer for The Aviso.
Chelsea Weikart contributing writer for The Aviso.