A current conference shakeup may find John Brown Athletics between a rock and a hard place later.
The Sooner Athletic Conference, of which the University is a member, is at a crossroads.
As of next season, the conference will be down to seven schools, having lost five schools in two seasons.
SAC is in its first season after losing Northwestern Oklahoma State, Oklahoma Christian, and Southern Nazarene to NCAA Division II conferences. This season is the last for Rogers State and Lubbock Christian, who will also join NCAA Division II next season.
With the conference scrambling to find new teams, John Brown Athletics finds itself in a new role and in an unfamiliar situation.
“We’re the anchor [of the conference] at this point,” said Nicholas Robinson, sports information director. “Things are going to be drastically changing next year.”
Robyn Daugherty, director of athletics said, “[The SAC] could be totally different in a year.”
The current situation in the SAC is not a case of failure but of too much success, according to Robinson.
Robinson said the schools in the conference are finding so much success that they need to recruit at a higher level that only NCAA membership can provide. As a result, they are leaving the SAC and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
“It is a bittersweet situation… [the SAC is] bleeding teams out of the NAIA,” said Robinson.
The uncertainty of the situation means the University is looking at alternatives in case it finds itself without a conference in a couple of years.
“Everything hinges on what happens next year,” said Robinson, “We’ve got two choices in front of us: We stay and recruit new conference members, or we leave and add football.”
Having to add football is a “possibility,” according to Robinson, because of two factors: geography and loyalty to the NAIA.
There are already a handful of conferences close enough to make athlete travel times manageable, but with the exception of the Heartland Conference, all require football as a collegiate sport. The University, however, is not in the process of developing a football program.
“Right now, we don’t see the need for football yet,” said Daugherty.
The University is not opposed to football, though, and could add it if it needed to in order to join a conference, according to Daugherty.
“[Adding football is] definitely a big hurdle, but it’s not something … that is off the table,” said Daughtery.
Conversely, The Heartland Conference does not sponsor football and is geographically similar to the SAC, but is an NCAA Division II conference. Leaving the NAIA would mean leaving a conference with a similar philosophy to the University.
“The NAIA runs completely parallel with [JBU’s] mission,” said Robinson, “A lot of times people [leave the NAIA] just … because they want that blue NCAA [logo] on their website.”
The connection to the NAIA is not only a similarity in beliefs but also an affinity for the personal touch in recruiting that NAIA membership affords.
“A lot of student athletes come to John Brown because our coaches go out to their homes and show genuine interest in them and want to see them succeed on and off the field,” said Robinson. “You just simply can’t do that as a member of the NCAA.”
Robinson said, “The best option is to rebuild the SAC. We have a lot of hard decisions to make if we can’t.”
The SAC is likely to survive, though, and the conference is already seeking new teams.
“[The SAC] commissioner is actively pursuing new members in conjunction with the Athletic Directors and the presidents of the SAC,” said Daugherty.
The athletic directors of the conference schools will meet Sept. 12th, where new members could be announced.