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Southland Conference adds Incarnate Word

FRISCO, Texas – The Southland Conference and the University of the Incarnate Word announced Monday afternoon that the institution will become a member of the league, effective July 1, 2013. The membership will coincide with the San Antonio-based institution’s four-year transition to NCAA Division I.

Currently a member of the Division II Lone Star Conference, Incarnate Word will begin the four-year shift to Division I with the Southland Conference’s assistance and oversight. It is expected that UIW will begin counting as an NCAA Division I team for scheduling purposes in 2014-15, and will be fully eligible for NCAA championship events in 2017-18.

Incarnate Word will participate in all of the Southland’s 17 sponsored championships, including men’s sports baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, tennis, and indoor and outdoor track and field. On the women’s side, UIW will compete in basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, tennis, indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball. In 2013-14, the athletic program will receive Southland schedules in all sports, except football, as the UIW program will begin league play in the fall of 2014.

“The Southland Conference Board of Directors is very pleased to extend an offer of membership to the University of the Incarnate Word,” said Dr. Baker Pattillo, Southland Board Chairman and the president at Stephen F. Austin State University. “Further, we are honored to learn of the institution’s acceptance of our offer, and we are gratified by the approval of the UIW Board of Trustees and the visionary leadership of the university’s administration. The Southland presidents look forward to a beneficial partnership with UIW, its athletic program and the San Antonio community.”

“We are truly blessed to be joining such an outstanding conference like the Southland,” said UIW president Dr. Louis Agnese Jr. “We look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with the Southland Conference that will be equally rewarding to our students and the residents of San Antonio.”

“As many know, the Southland Conference presidents have studied the possibilities of membership addition, as well as the impacts of Division I conference realignment, for nearly two years,” said Southland commissioner Tom Burnett. “As is the case with other membership additions, the Board has only shown interest in institutions that clearly bring added value to the league. That includes strong academic performance, athletic competitiveness and achievement, excellent playing facilities, geographic fit, media market size and presence in the market, and strong fan support. UIW is a historic and accomplished institution, and has the potential and resources to be a competitively successful member of the Southland Conference and NCAA Division I.”

Founded in 1881 by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, the university was originally chartered as a college for women, and only became co-educational in 1971. Located in the Alamo Heights area, UIW boasts a beautiful 154-acre campus where the headwaters of the San Antonio River that feeds the famous River Walk begin.

Consistently ranked among the top liberal arts universities in the Southwest, Incarnate Word was rated 59th (West) in the 2011 edition of the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges and Universities. UIW offers nearly 80 undergraduate and graduate level majors, including a Ph.D. in Education and professional doctoral degrees in optometry, pharmacy, nursing practice and physical therapy. Incarnate Word provides the most comprehensive health care programs of any private institution in Texas, and it’s estimated that its optometry and pharmacy programs alone could inject as much as $500 million into the San Antonio economy in the next decade.

Since 1985, the university has seen exponential growth in all areas, expanding from its main Alamo Heights-area campus to include seven other satellite educational sites in the San Antonio metropolitan area. The institution has also reached beyond the immediate area with an adult degree completion program center in Corpus Christi, Texas, as well as international sites in Mexico City, Heidelberg, Germany and Guangzhou, China. Additionally, the institution’s endowment has grown from $3 million in 1985 to nearly $100 million today.

UIW’s enrollment will surpass 9,000 this fall, an all-time high for the university. UIW is the fourth-largest private institution in the state of Texas, the largest Catholic university in the state, and the largest private Hispanic-serving university in Texas. Projections have UIW becoming the largest private institution in Texas by 2020.

“To say the university is excited would be an understatement,” Incarnate Word athletic director Mark Papich said. “After years of study regarding facilities, financial resources and staffing, this announcement is the culmination of numerous people’s time and energy that put UIW in the right position for review. We know we will have several short term and long term projects to make the move to the Southland Conference a successful venture.”

Athletically, the Cardinals have held membership in NCAA Division II since 1999, and the Lone Star Conference since 2009, and will have an athletics budget of $9.5 million in 2012-13. In addition to the 17 Southland Conference sports, the Cardinals also sponsor men’s soccer, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and women’s synchronized swimming.

Since 2007-08, more than 20 Cardinals’ squads have claimed league titles and advanced to national postseason play. UIW’s 2011-12 athletic year was highlighted by a conference tournament championship in softball, a tournament title game appearance in women’s basketball, a second-place league finish in men’s tennis, an NCAA men’s soccer tournament berth, and upper division finishes in men’s basketball and women’s tennis.

UIW’s on-campus athletic facilities include the 6,000-seat Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium, built in 2008 as home to Cardinal football, track and field and soccer squads. The adjoining Benson Fieldhouse is a 16,000-sq. ft. facility that houses locker rooms, meeting areas, weight and training rooms, and coaches’ offices.

The 2,000-seat McDermott Convocation Center is home to Cardinal volleyball and basketball teams, the 1,000-seat Sullivan Field plays host to the UIW baseball team, and Cardinals Field is home to UIW softball. The eight-court Mabry Tennis Center opened in 1993 for men’s and women’s team competition.

As necessary, Incarnate Word may also conduct home athletic events at historic Alamo Stadium (23,000 capacity) and the Alamo Convocation Center (6,000 capacity), both adjacent to the UIW campus.

“The addition of UIW is an exciting development for the Southland,” Burnett said. “And, as we’ve discussed the possibilities of membership with our internal groups, it’s been very evident in every conversation that the San Antonio metro area is very important to our university administrators and coaches. The city has always been vital to the conference, has played a large role in our historic success, and we look forward to continuing a mutually beneficial relationship with the city and a great new university partner.”

Regarding other membership decisions, Burnett added that “the Southland remains active in its discussions with other universities that we have been engaged with in recent months. We expect resolution on these membership options in the near future.”

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