GSC Approves Membership Invite to Lee University
Courtesy Michael Anderson, GSC Assistant Commissioner for Media and Public Affairs
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Gulf South Conference’s search for additional members bore fruit today when GSC Commissioner Nate Salant announced the GSC Executive Committee’s unanimous approval of an invitation to Lee University to apply for membership.
The approval comes on the heels of a recommendation from the GSC Expansion Committee, which visited LU’s campus last week. The Executive Committee also endorsed sending a letter to the NCAA Division II leadership indicating that the GSC plans to add Lee University upon its acceptance into the DII membership process.
Lee University is a private, comprehensive university located in Cleveland, Tennessee, just 30 miles northeast of Chattanooga. LU boasts an enrollment of more than 4,500 students and was ranked in the “Top Tier” in the South by U.S. News & World Report (Comprehensive Medium- Size Universities) in 2010. Lee was also ranked by Princeton Review’s “Best Colleges” and is now one of the 141 colleges named Best in the Southeast.
The Lee University Flames/Lady Flames are currently a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and sponsor 17 sports, 13 of which are currently championship sports in the GSC.
The largest piece of the puzzle that led to the ultimate approval of LU is the likelihood that it will add football for the first time in school history. Lee University President Dr. Paul Conn informed the GSC leadership that a football feasibility study is currently underway and he believes football will be added in the near future.
"We are thrilled to have an opportunity to join the Gulf South Conference,” stated Dr. Conn. “We feel this is the strongest conference in the NCAA's Division II. We deeply appreciate the work of Commissioner Salant in opening the door for us and the work of the Expansion Committee, including its recent visit to our campus. We believe we can be a very positive member of the GSC."
"The invitation enables us to make official application to the NCAA for Division II membership, which we will do before June 1, 2012. With the endorsement of the Gulf South Conference, we are optimistic about receiving NCAA approval to begin three-year process of becoming an active (full) D-II and GSC member."
“The Gulf South Conference is a powerful football league, and our joining them coincides with beginning an official and serious feasibility study of the possibility of adding football to our athletic program. Local folks and our alums will be hearing a lot about this in the near future. The GSC is very serious about women's sports, and that is very important to us. We see programs like Delta State's women's basketball and Valdosta State's national champion softball, and we know that's where we need to be."
Commissioner Salant also expressed his excitement in today’s announcement. “I am pleased to make this announcement because we know we've added one of the best NAIA schools in the country, not only from an athletic perspective but also from an academic one. Lee is not your typical private school in that it is very large, has a tremendous following in the community and is in very good financial shape. The stability and steady growth that is the cornerstone of President Conn's 26 years at the helm impressed us, as did the overall quality of its athletic facilities. Lee puts significant emphasis on women's athletics, another important item in the evaluation process, and any time you can add a four-time defending champion women's soccer program, you want to do so. They field very strong teams in two sports in which we need them, men's soccer and women's golf, and will also strengthen our volleyball league.”
"Of course, there's the issue of football," Salant continued, "and our Executive Committee has included a very strong recommendation that Lee add it in the letter we sent them notifying Dr. Conn of the our invitation to apply for GSC membership. It was a constant topic during my visits, and it is very clear that the community, alumni, faculty, students and administrators are 'ready' for it. They will do their feasibility study and complete the process, and we hope that the end decision will mean a football team playing in the GSC in a few years.
"Thanks to our GSC-TV LIVE telecasts, we already have a presence in the Knoxville and Chattanooga markets, so it makes sense to have a school in that area. And if that school begins playing football, it will gain even more from the exposure that results. Given that Lee recruits its students nationally, that can only be a plus for them as well."