MACON, Ga. – The Atlantic Sun Conference announced Northern Kentucky University will be eligible for all conference postseason championships for which their teams qualify starting with the upcoming 2014-15 academic year.
Northern Kentucky recently completed its second year of NCAA Division I reclassification after joining the A-Sun effective July 2012, and beginning conference competition in the 2012-13 season. The Norse must still complete the four-year reclassification period before becoming eligible for NCAA Championships, but the change allows current student-athletes the opportunity to compete for a conference postseason title.
"This is a moment to celebrate for all current student-athletes at NKU, and the A-Sun is extremely proud to lead the way," stated Commissioner Ted Gumbart.
For the past two seasons, NKU has competed at several A-Sun Championships, being initially eligible in eight sports, including men's and women's cross country, men's and women's indoor track & field, men's and women's golf and men's & women's outdoor track & field.
Beginning with this upcoming year's championships, the Norse may qualify for the remainder of the A-Sun Tournaments, including men's & women's soccer, volleyball, men's & women's basketball, men's & women's tennis, softball and baseball. If NKU captures a conference postseason championship, the A-Sun's automatic qualification (AQ) bid to the NCAA Championship will be awarded to the other A‑Sun Tournament finalist.
"This is tremendous news for all of our student-athletes and coaches," said NKU Athletics Director Ken Bothof. "Since my arrival here at NKU, the ability to participate in postseason play is something that has continued to be a point of discussion. This is a wonderful opportunity to enhance the student-athlete experience. There are many conferences that discuss the importance of the student-athlete experience; the Atlantic Sun continues to show leadership in such discussions. The Commissioner and our fellow members have not only done a great job of communicating the importance of our student-athletes, they have also demonstrated a willingness to support them as well."
The change in A-Sun policy arose after NCAA clarification that a conference may set specific criteria allowing its highest ranked finisher to be the AQ recipient if a non-eligible team were to participate and win the conference postseason tournament. Prior policy had determined that the conference would lose its AQ if an ineligible team won the tournament.
The A-Sun and its eight member institutions seized the opportunity to refine the conference's postseason AQ criteria to immediately allow NKU student-athletes full opportunity to qualify for and participate in all A-Sun Championships.
"For us it became a simple issue of include or exclude," Commissioner Gumbart stated. "Consistent with our Core Values, we unanimously chose to include."
The A-Sun has consistently integrated new conference members into full participation in all aspects of conference membership at the earliest point possible for the strongest and quickest growth of the programs. The proven record of success is reflected as the four most recent additions to the A-Sun have made their mark in the NCAA Championships.
Florida Gulf Coast University earned national distinction when it became the first 15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in the men's basketball championship in 2013; Kennesaw State celebrated this spring when it won the Tallahassee regional and advanced to the Super Regional in baseball; USC Upstate brought its nationally-ranked softball program to the NCAA tournament with an at-large berth this spring and knocked off South Alabama; North Florida has enjoyed national rankings in men's golf and celebrated an NCAA Regional Championship in 2013.
"I am very pleased that all of our student-athletes will now be eligible to participate in Atlantic Sun Conference championships," said NKU President Geoffrey Mearns. "I am grateful to the other presidents for supporting this initiative, and I am grateful to Commissioner Gumbart for his leadership."
The 2014-15 Atlantic Sun Conference Championship Season begins Nov. 1 with men's and women's cross country and the opening round of the women's soccer championship.