AUM soars into Division IIPublished 12:00pm Wednesday, July 17, 2013
MONTGOMERY — Auburn Montgomery has a storied championship history as banners fly from the rafters overlooking the basketball court. They also serve as bookmarks for another chapter in the school’s short history.
The banners represent NAIA success, mostly by the AUM Senators. That was then.
Auburn Montgomery’s athletic director Steve Crotz was notified late Friday afternoon that AUM has been approved to begin the three-year Division II membership process beginning Sept. 1.
“This is a good fit for us,” Crotz said. “This is where we need to be. The board of trustees have been great and the students have been incredible during this experience and we needed them to be.”
Beginning the transition, the Warhawks will remain a member of the NAIA and compete, with postseason eligibility, in the Southern States Athletic Conference this season.
“Our conference is so tough right now, we’re nationally ranked and we have six or seven teams nationally ranked from our conference,” said Chris Wilcoxson, coach of the Lady Warhawks softball team. “We’re prepared for this move and the Peach Belt has some great competition, too. I’m looking forward to the challenge and I think we’ll be able to compete immediately.”
As a member of the Peach Belt, for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 seasons, the Warhawks will only be able to compete for league championships.
“We were really selective between the Peach Belt and some of the other conference options. The main factor was the Peach Belt is a predominately public conference school,” added Crotz. “Only one of the current 14 members has football, so there’s no pressure to get that started.”
The Warhawks, in 2014-2015, will join in with Georgia Regents University-Augusta, Armstrong, Clayton State, Columbus State, Flagler, Francis Marion, Georgia College, Georgia Southwestern, Lander, Montevallo, UNC-Pembrook, USC-Aiken, North Georgia and Young Harris.
“We are trying to brand ourselves and come out with a product that may be a little more attractive to a better brand of student-athlete,” said Crotz. “We want to compete for championships like we’ve done in the NAIA. Hopefully that’s going to motivate our coaches and student-athletes to do well. And hopefully, that’s going to motivate our fans to come and some sponsorships that we may not have gotten.”
With a winning percentage of .604 or better in eight head-to-head sports, and a combined 96 conference and district championships shared among 10 sports, the postseason is a bit of an expectation for present and future Warhawks.
According to Wilcoxson, the move is going to help grow her recruiting base.
“It’s going to allow us t pull bigger and better kids out of Georgia and Alabama,” she said. “I think this is a good thing for our school and for our program. I’m looking forward to the challenge and the girls are too. I think this is going to keep pushing us in the right direction.”
It’s going to push the athletic department’s bottom line, too.
“We are going to save some money, too,” said Crotz. “Travel-wise, it’s going to be about the same because the SSAC added three more teams. The footprint of that conference is no bigger than where we are now.”
Here’s where the NAIA and the NCAA differ.
“We expect to go to the postseason. But once we get past the conference level, the NCAA picks up the expenses,” said Crotz. “The NCAA (scholarship) limits in each of the sports are lower than what the NAIA allows. And we are in pretty good shape after all this proration. I think it was 28 percent since 2007 and we’ve made a conscience effort to take that out of the cost of our operations. We are going to reduce in all sports, except for tennis (remains the same) and Cross Country (will add at a later time). All sports will reduce one-to-two scholarships. The savings on that we are going utilize and re-allocate over time.”
Crotz added that the NCAA has a cap on number of games scheduled. Using baseball for instance, the NAIA allowed for a 55-game schedule. In Division II it’s a 50-game schedule. Basketball is 30, in the NAIA Crotz added, its 26-28.
“When you start figuring out travel and meals; if its at home you’re figuring out how to pay officials and table help – by the fact you’re not going to have as many matches going on,” said Crotz, “we are looking at that is a positive. The money we are going to save, we can look at that as academic support for our athletes and improving some of the things we do here facility wise.”
But there’s more to it than just athletics.
“I got here when it was all completed. Seeing this now, this is amazing,” said Alexis Avery, who serves as the Warhawks Associate Athletic Director for Compliance. “When I came here we started group education and I met with the student-athletes to get them on the same page and went over policies and procedures with the coaches.”
According to Crotz, changing allegiances had been a topic of conversation since he moved to Montgomery in the late 90s.
“Softball just finished their fifth season of competition and has gone to the national tournament: It was at that point we realized we needed 10 sports,” said Crotz. “We added cross country. We didn’t want to rush through this. We had to make sure the infrastructure was in place. And you’ve seen a branding with the mascot. It’s been in place for years and years. One of the differences is we’ve continually talked about it for years and years.”
Crotz arrived in Montgomery in 1996, the same year West Florida and Montevallo bid bon voyage to the NAIA strait to sail into the NCAA ocean.
“We started losing membership in our league (SSAC),” said Crotz. “But we didn’t have the infrastructure in place to make this move happen.”
The conversation amped up over the past two years.
“We started looking at what all we had in place,” said Crotz.
In order to make the transition a reality, Crotz and his staff turned in multiple documents and procedural manuals and a handbook containing more than 600 pages.
Later that month, an additional 140 page were submitted.
That’s where Avery has been a blessing for the AUM staff.
Men’s and women’s cross country will be the first Warhawk sport to make its final trek through the SSAC.