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Houston Baptist to join Southland Conference

Houston Baptist will join the Southland Conference according to a press release from the conference office. As we were the first to report on October 12th, we stated that the conference was in heavy negotiations with Houston Baptist and Abilene Christian. Right now, there has been no news on Abilene Christian possibly making the move to Division 1. The full press release from the conference is below.

FRISCO, Texas – The Southland Conference and Houston Baptist University announced Monday that the institution will become the newest member of the NCAA Division I league. The university will become the 11th member of the Southland on July 1, 2013, and will then become eligible for conference championships and NCAA automatic bids in most of the league’s sports.

Houston Baptist, a private institution that rejoined NCAA Division I this year, announced last month it will start a football program that will compete at the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level and. HBU’s football program will join the Southland in 2014, giving the league an all-time high of nine football teams.

Additionally, the university has plans to replace 48-year-old Sharp Gym, home of HBU basketball and volleyball, with a new multi-purpose Special Events Center on its campus in southwest Houston.

The HBU Huskies currently participates in 14 of the Southland’s 17 sponsored championships, including men’s sports basketball, baseball, cross country, golf, and indoor and outdoor track and field. On the women’s side, HBU sponsors basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball. HBU also sponsors men’s soccer, but the Southland does not offer a championship in the sport.

“After a great amount of study, the Southland Conference Board of Directors was unanimous in extending the offer of membership to Houston Baptist University,” said Dr. Baker Pattillo, Southland Board Chairman and the president at Stephen F. Austin State University. “We are honored to learn of the acceptance from the HBU Board of Trustees, and we have been very impressed with the leadership of President Robert Sloan and his vision for the university and its athletics program, including the exciting news of the Huskies’ new football program joining the Southland.”

“I am thrilled at the invitation and believe entering the Southland Conference with its long-standing traditions is a great opportunity for HBU,” Sloan said. “We have for many years enjoyed competing against the other conference universities, and the continued development of these rivalries should enhance the connection of our students and alumni to HBU. We are honored to join this historic conference and to be able to work with so many outstanding colleagues in higher education.”

While the Houston area serves as the location of the largest alumni base for Southland institutions, HBU will be the first Southland member located in the nation’s fourth largest city and 10th largest media market. Additionally, approximately 20,000 students from metropolitan Houston attend Southland institutions each year, and nearly 90,000 active alumni live in the area. The league has also hosted its annual men’s and women’s basketball tournament in the area since 2007.

“The addition of Houston Baptist is the latest step in the effort of the Southland presidents to ensure future membership stability for the league,” added Southland commissioner Tom Burnett. “As we’ve mentioned previously, the board has only shown interest in institutions that clearly bring added value to the league. The group clearly sees the benefits of adding a football-playing institution in the biggest city within the Southland’s current footprint.”

Houston Baptist will join Oral Roberts University (joining the Southland in 2012) as the league’s first private institutions since charter members Trinity University and Abilene Christian University departed the conference in early 1970s.

“This is certainly an exciting time for HBU athletics. Joining the Southland Conference is a huge plus for us, and puts us where we want to be for a league home,” HBU athletics director Steve Moniaci said. We are looking forward to competing against, and building rivalries with, these great universities from our region that compete in the Southland. Not only will this be fantastic for our student-athletes – who will soon have the opportunity to challenge for automatic bids to the NCAA Championships, but it will also give our fans the opportunity to travel to these schools, see us compete and support the Huskies.”

Currently a member of the Great West Conference, the HBU program recently completed a return to NCAA Division I after a 17-year run as an NAIA powerhouse, winning 40 league titles and competing in 35 NAIA national tournaments. Previously a member of the NCAA from 1967 to 1990 (and in Division I from 1973-89), HBU was once a member of the Trans America Athletic Conference (now known as the Atlantic Sun Conference), where it won multiple league championships and earned numerous NCAA postseason berths. HBU has produced numerous golf professionals, include eight-time Merit of Order recipient and European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, multiple All-America selections in many sports, professional athletes and Olympians.

Founded in 1960, Houston Baptist University is an independent Christian liberal arts institution with a diverse student body. Dedicated to the development of the intellect, moral character and spiritual lives of its students, HBU serves approximately 2,700 students on its 100-acre campus. The university offers nearly 30 undergraduate major programs and eight pre-professional programs in its five colleges and honors college. HBU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).

The Southland Conference has excelled competitively throughout its history, including winning five various national championships in football, and advancing four men’s basketball teams to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen and one to the NIT Final Four. The league has also sent a women’s basketball team to the NCAA Final Four, another team to the NCAA Elite Eight and two squads to the WNIT championship game. In 2011, the Southland ranked as the eighth-best Division I baseball conference in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), and has produced numerous major league players, including 25 draft choices this year.

Southland softball teams have defeated nationally-ranked teams every year since 1995, the league has produced a women’s volleyball NCAA Final Four participant, and track and field individuals have won a combined 32 NCAA championships. The Southland placed three men’s golf teams into the 2011 NCAA regionals, and has produced two top-10 national NCAA team finishes since 2006.

Academically, the Southland has experienced the best improvement of all Division I conferences in the NCAA Academic Performance Program during the past five years, and in 2009-10, its men’s basketball programs collectively had the 10th best yearly Academic Progress Rate (APR) among the 31 conferences. The league celebrates and honors academic achievement with its F.L. McDonald Postgraduate Scholarship Award, the Scholar-Athlete Award, the Commissioner’s Honor Roll and the All-Academic Teams.

In 2008, the league developed the award-winning Southland Conference Television Network that provides more than 30 annual live productions of various sports events to more than two dozen regional and national affiliates.

Burnett added the Southland will continue to review membership possibilities in coming months. “The Southland’s membership review process remains open, and we expect that the Board of Directors will advance with a primary focus on possibly adding institutions that sponsor football,” he said.

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