CLAREMORE — A truly historic day in Rogers State University athletics came to fruition at 9:59 a.m. when the Hillcats received acceptance into NCAA Division II. RSU athletic director Ryan Bradley called it a 'milestone moment' and a culmination of blood, sweat and tears over a process that took two years in completion. At Friday's press conference held inside the RSU Centennial Ballroom, Bradley and President Dr. Larry Rice told Hillcat supporters, faculty members and administration that this is a win-win situation for the university and the Claremore community.
"Everyone understands the brand of NAIA, but it just doesn't carry the same significance as the NCAA," Rice said. "It doesn't matter if you're I, II or III, it's the NCAA and brings national recognition to RSU."
Definitely benchmark in RSU history, Rice added.
"College students call it a game-changer," Rice continued on the move from NAIA to NCAA Division II. "Since RSU brought athletics back seven years ago, we have built strong, vibrant, competitive teams on and off the field."
RSU will continue in the Sooner Athletic Conference for the 2012-13 athletic year, and then progress to NCAA Division II in 2013-14 where they will compete in the Heartland Conference.
"The move allows RSU to better serve both our student-athletes and the university, while also increasing the national exposure for both the university and the communities we serve," Rice said.
With its successful application for Division II membership, RSU now enters into a three-year transition period before earning full NCAA membership status.
As a member of the Heartland Conference, RSU joins two other SAC schools — Oklahoma Christian and Lubbock Christian University — as well as schools in Kansas, Arkansas and Texas.
Starting in the fall of 2013, RSU will play a Heartland Conference schedule in all sports as it completes Second Year Candidancy. Upon completion of Year Three of the membership process, which is the provisional year, the Hillcats will gain full NCAA membership and become eligible to compete for NCAA Division II Championships beginning as early as 2015-16.
The NCAA Division II Membership Committee annually determines if an institution should move forward into the next candidacy year, and it can require an institution to repeat a year if progress is not sufficient.
"We are thrilled with the committee's decision and anxious to begin the NCAA membership process," said Bradley. "We believe RSU is a great fit for NCAA Division II and we look forward to establishing new rivalries and traditions with many of our peer institutions in the region."
According to RSU head baseball coach Ron Bradley, "When we started seven years ago behind Atwoods, we were considered a sandlot baseball program. Now, to see the progress we've made and finishing this season with a chance at winning a national title, this is a huge moment for our university and Claremore."
The move to NCAA Division II places higher standards on RSU when it comes to recruiting student-athletes to campus.
"Our focus turns to better quality high school kids and possibly take a chance on those Division I players," Ron Bradley said. "High school kids become more valuable to us."
The scholarship limitations in baseball going from NAIA to NCAA Division II are cut from 12 full scholarships to 9 full scholarships.
"This change from NAIA to Division II will make RSU a higher caliber athletic program," Ron Bradley said. "And the addition of LCU and Oklahoma Christian will only strengthen the quality of competition in the Heartland Conference."
RSU has enjoyed rapid growth in sports sponsorship since the launch of athletics in 2005. The Hillcats joined the NAIA in 2005 when baseball and softball were implemented. RSU was accepted as a member of the SAC in 2006 and added men's and women's soccer and men's and women's basketball in 2007. Men's and women's golf was added in 2009 and cross country was implemented in 2010.
Over the past seven years, the Hillcats have won 67 percent of their athletic competitions, claimed four conference titles, produced 11 NAIA All-Americans and made nine national tournament appearances.
"We are grateful to the NAIA and the Sooner Athletic Conference for the opportunities they've provided for our student-athletes over the past seven years," Bradley said. "We are extremely proud of what our programs have accomplished during the early years of development and look forward to the new challenges the NCAA will provide for Hillcat Athletics."