North Alabama Set To Join Division INews
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The Atlantic Sun Conference will welcome a new baseball member to the fold as sources told D1Baseball.com that the University of North Alabama will join Division I in athletics, effective fall 2018.
Though neither North Alabama or the Atlantic Sun have made an official announcement on the matter, one is expected early next week.
“I think it’s great for our league to build some stability and add depth to the league,” one Atlantic Sun baseball coach said. “It will obviously be a challenge for them over the next few years, but like all new teams, they’ll figure it out and find out what it will take to compete in this league.”
While UNA enjoys the reclassification process from Division II to Division I in baseball, the football program is expected to have a different transition. The football program will move Division I, but will compete in the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) as opposed to the FBS, and will play in the Big South Conference. Currently, through a partnership between the two leagues, Kennesaw State is the lone A-Sun institution with football and thus plays Big South competition. North Alabama will become the second to do so.
As for baseball, the addition of UNA, the first season coming in 2019, gives the A-Sun a ninth baseball member. The league has had some turnover and additions over the past few years, most recently adding New Jersey Tech to the fold two summers ago. NJIT competed in its first season with the league in 2016 and went an ugly 17-36 overall with a 2-18 mark in conference play.
UNA has more cachet on the baseball landscape than NJIT, but will still have a challenging transition to Division I. The Lions are coached by Nebraska native Mike Keehn, who has been with the program for eight seasons. UNA finished last season with a 25-22 overall record and competed in the rugged Gulf South Conference, which included three ranked teams in Division II Baseball – West Florida, Delta State and West Georgia.
Overall, the Lions have reached the NCAA tournament on 12 occasions with six of those appearances coming in the 1990s. UNA reached the postseason in 1999 before not doing it again until Keehn led them to back-to-back trips in 2011 and 2012. The Lions had 30-straight winning seasons spanning from 1984-2013.
North Alabama was founded in 1830 and has a campus enrollment of 8,300. Furthermore, its baseball home field, Mike D. Lane Field, seats 750 and surely will undergo some renovations before making the transition to Division I Baseball.
Realignment continues to be a major story in college athletics with the Atlantic Sun prepared to make another move with the addition of UNA.