ELMHURST, ILLINOIS - Centenary College of Louisiana has accepted an invitation to become the ninth member institution of the Mid-Continent Conference, Commissioner Dr. Jon A. Steinbrecher announced on Thursday at a press conference at the Gold Dome on Centenary???s campus in Shreveport, La. Centenary will begin league competition in the 2003-04 school year, and will be immediately eligible to compete for conference championships and NCAA berths.
???After a great deal of study and deliberation, the Mid-Continent Conference invited Centenary College to become a member because it was the right decision from a philosophic and programmatic standpoint,??? Steinbrecher said. ???In the long term, Centenary will make the Mid-Con a better conference.???
The Mid-Con Presidents Council unanimously voted on October 10 to extend an invitation for membership to Centenary, which formally accepted the invitation at the press conference this morning. It was an easy decision for Centenary College and President Dr. Kenneth Schwab, and the level of excitement on campus tied in with this announcement has not been seen for some time.
???We are honored to be in a conference of the Mid-Continent Conference???s caliber,??? Schwab said. ???Its member schools are strong models of institutions of higher learning, because they promote excellence both in the classroom and on the playing field.???
???When I first became acquainted with the Mid-Continent Conference, its staff and its member schools, I knew that this Conference was a great fit for Centenary,??? said Centenary Director of Athletics Dr. David Bedard, echoing Schwab???s excitement. ???I knew we belonged in the Mid-Con, and we are thrilled to become a member.???
A number of factors were appealing for the Presidents Council, but two stood out over the rest. First, of the 18 sports that Centenary will sponsor in the 2003-04 season, 15 are current Mid-Con Championship sports.
Centenary offers programs in baseball, men???s and women???s basketball, men???s and women???s cross country, men???s and women???s golf, gymnastics, men???s and women???s rifle, men???s and women???s soccer, softball, men???s and women???s swimming, men???s and women???s tennis and volleyball. Of those sports, only gymnastics and rifle are currently not sponsored by the Mid-Con.
???Our sports programs readily complement those in the Mid-Continent Conference,??? Schwab said. ???We are a good fit and look forward to an enduring relationship with these athletic competitors.???
Bedard added, ???The 18 varsity sports offered at Centenary complement the Mid-Continent Conference very well. I can not think of a better conference fit for Centenary than the Mid-Con.???
It was Centenary???s recommitment to its athletics programs, a process that was begun in the late-1990???s, that solidified the opinions of the league???s presidents and made the vote to extend membership to Centenary a unanimous decision.
???After a good deal of introspection, Centenary recommitted itself to having a strong NCAA Division I athletics program, and has made the commitment to financially support the program, provide very good facilities, and hire outstanding coaches,??? Steinbrecher said. ???This gives me every reason to believe that Centenary will be very competitive not only within the Mid-Con, but against all other opponents it will face.???
Dr. Gary Russi, President of Oakland University and Chair of the Mid-Con Presidents Council, confirmed Steinbrecher???s thoughts.
???Centenary is an outstanding academic institution, and has a mix of athletic programs that closely matches the array of programs of the rest of the Mid-Continent Conference member universities,??? Russi said. ???Because of the commitment to academic quality and to strong athletic programs, including new facilities, Centenary College is an excellent addition to the Mid-Continent Conference.???
Centenary has a storied tradition in college athletics, which dates to the early 1900???s, and is one of the top liberal arts universities in the south. Founded in 1825, it is the oldest liberal arts school west of the Mississippi River. It joined the NCAA Division I level in 1973, and as it joins the Mid-Con, becomes the member institution with the longest tenure of Division I membership.
???Centenary has a long and distinguished academic history, and has been a continuing member of NCAA Division I longer than any other Mid-Continent Conference institution,??? said Dr. Alan Harre, Valparaiso University President and a member of the visitation team that was sent to Centenary College for evaluation. ???We were attracted to these signs of institutional stability and commitment to both academics and athletics.???
With just 890 undergraduate students, Centenary has the smallest enrollment of any school sponsoring NCAA Division I athletics. However, the support given by the students, administrators, coaches, faculty, Board of Trustees and surrounding community is no indication of the size of the student body, a fact that was easily seen by those Mid-Con administrators who visited the campus.
???If the quality of the Centenary student-athlete mirrors the hard work and determination of the College???s leadership, fans in Shreveport can look forward to years of exciting and successful collegiate competition against Mid-Con opponents,??? said Jack Mehl, Oakland University Director of Athletics and Chair of the Mid-Con Directors Council.
Added Oral Roberts University Director of Athletics Mike Carter, who was also on the visitation team, ???Centenary has a rich tradition in NCAA Division I athletics, and has demonstrated a renewed financial commitment, with strong support campus-wide, from the Student Government Association to the faculty to the Board of Trustees.???
Centenary???s strong athletic tradition is evident just by looking at a few of its prominent alumni. Among those who attended Centenary are PGA Tour veteran Hal Sutton, former NBA Star Robert Parish, Olympic gymnast Kathy Johnson-Clarke, and football and baseball Hall of Famer Cal Hubbard. Centenary???s student-athletes have continued on that success in recent years, as evidenced by Lara Brown and Ronnie McCollum, who led NCAA Division I in scoring in women???s soccer and men???s basketball, respectively, two years ago.
Centenary will become the ninth Mid-Con member institution, joining Chicago State University, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), Oakland University, Oral Roberts University, Southern Utah University, Valparaiso University and Western Illinois University.