Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference welcomes Johnson and Wales University

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The Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference welcomes Denver, Colo.’s Johnson and Wales University as the 9th team of the conference. Johnson and Wales University Photo.

Most University of Dallas students, whether athletes or not, likely are not aware of the journey the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) has taken to get where it is today. The conference has undergone massive reconstruction to arrive at the eight member institutions that currently comprise it, and beginning in the 2018-19 academic year it will add a ninth.

Johnson and Wales University (JWU) in Denver, Colo., will be joining the conference for one year while the conference continues to pursue expansion.

“We are actively pursuing a 10th school,” conference commissioner Dwayne Hanberry said.

SCAC has been contemplating expansion for a long time. UD joined the league in 2011, replacing the recently departed DePauw University in order to keep the conference at 12 members.

However, just one year after UD joined, there was a major split in the conference, as seven schools left to form a new conference, leaving SCAC with only five members, according to the league’s website. UD remained with Colorado College, Austin College, Trinity University and Southwestern University.

The league did not stay at five for long, however, as Centenary College immediately joined the following year in 2012, and Schreiner University joined with Texas Lutheran University in 2013.

According to Hanberry, the league initially looked to expand due to its unique football situation. Only four of the eight members support a football team, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) requires a conference to have at least seven members in order to be eligible for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

“After … weighing our options and looking at who was out there we decided football wasn’t going to be an option,” Hanberry said.

The league has since found other conferences to which its football teams can become affiliate members beginning next year.

“Once that decision was made about a year and a half ago, that allowed us to refocus in on expansion,” Hanberry said.

This allowed the conference to look elsewhere, with a focus on schools that fit the SCAC culture of small liberal arts colleges with a focus on academics. That led to JWU.

“Johnson and Wales expressed interest, and it makes sense because they’re a natural travel partner with Colorado [College],” UD athletic director Dick Strockbine said.

“We kind of have an island school in Colorado College right now,” Hanberry said. “And although we found a way to make that work it still wasn’t the optimal situation.”

Six of the eight SCAC members are located in Texas, with the exceptions of Colorado and Centenary. Centenary is located in Shreveport, La., which is still within close proximity to the other SCAC schools. With the addition of JWU, there will now be another member in close proximity to Colorado College, allowing the southern schools to play multiple conference games in one trip.

UD’s own President Thomas Keefe, as chairman of the SCAC Board of Directors, played an important part in adding JWU.

“My responsibility was, upon recommendation of Johnson and Wales, to visit their campus and meet with their president,” Keefe said.

JWU is currently a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) school transitioning to Division III NCAA. Johnson and Wales University has four campuses, with the parent campus, which already competes in Division III athletics, located in Providence, RI.

“They have a background in Division III because the home school has been in Division III for a long time,” Strockbine said.

For this reason, SCAC leadership believes the transition will be easy.

“We felt confident that they have a good model that will make it easier for them to make that transition,” Hanberry said.

JWU has also recently hired a new athletic director, Tom Byrnes, who has served as the commissioner of the Division III Capital Athletic Conference since 2008.

Hanberry believes the addition will be a mutually beneficial action.

“Their athletics programs are young and growing and they want to use athletics to grow their institution and they knew that an affiliation with us would go a long way to fulfilling their goals,” Hanberry said. “For us it just makes all the sense in the world, they’re a good school but the geography is really perfect for us.”

Keefe believes that the culture of the school fits in well with the rest of SCAC.

“They’re part of a national collection of universities, but they’ve increased their commitment to liberal arts education over the past couple of years,” Keefe said.

From UD’s perspective, this addition will  reduce travel costs and make travel easier on its own student athletes.

“I think it will improve our annual trip to Colorado,” David Hoffman, head coach for men’s soccer, said.

He explained how, in the past, Colorado College arranged for UD’s soccer team to play another opponent, using Colorado College as the neutral site. However, this would usually lead to the Crusaders playing back-to-back games.

“I feel the advantage will still go to the home team, but, it will be nice to get that day of rest between matches,” Hoffman said. “Also, this will give us a day to perhaps do something in Colorado that is more on a tourist’s agenda.”

Head basketball coach Jarred Samples is excited about the addition.

“I think the way conferences all over the country are right now, it’s always good to be adding and not subtracting from leagues,” Samples said.

While some may wonder how this affects recruiting, the coaches seem to think it will not be a big deal. There are currently seven UD student-athletes from Colorado, and because Colorado College has been in the league it has already been an area of focus from a recruiting standpoint.

“It’s another selling point for us to recruit Colorado because now those student-athletes from Colorado get another game when we go there,” Samples said.

While JWU will not become a full member of SCAC until 2018, some of the UD teams are trying to schedule non-conference games against JWU for the upcoming season. Both the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams are making the trip to play them this coming April.

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