DIVISION I BOUND
— UNA Athletics (@UNAAthletics) December 6, 2016
Full specifics about the move are still forthcoming, but for UNA football fans out there, we can say the team (and all other Lion programs) will stay in the Gulf South for the 2017-18 academic year, and then the football team will move to the independent ranks of the FCS in 2018-19.
Following the move to independent, the Lion football team will join the Big South Conference, home to football powerhouses such as Charleston Southern, Kennesaw State, and Liberty. The only downside to the move up will be that the Lions will not be eligible for the FCS Tournament until 2023-24, when they become full D1 members.
As mentioned above, all other programs will also move to the ranks of D1, including baseball, men's and women's basketball, women's soccer, and volleyball. The university has the fifth largest enrollment of nine Atlantic Sun schools, so recruiting will definitely be a fun battle to watch for all these programs in years to come.
During the introductory press conference announcing the move (full video below), UNA athletic director Mark Linder looked toward the future in his remarks on the move.
"I think this move will be transformational for our university," Linder said. "We look forward to building relationships with schools in the ASUN and the Big South."
North Alabama becomes the latest of many schools to make the move up into the ranks of D1, and the most notable example is North Dakota State, who has won five straight FCS football titles since they moved in 2004. Before NDSU moved up, they had won five D2 football titles as well. UNA currently has three and is in the midst of a chase for their fourth, and will look to repeat the almost instant success the Bison found after their move.
The move also signifies a return to the state of Alabama for the ASUN, as former members Samford (1978-2003, founding member), Jacksonville State (1995-2003) and Troy (1997-2005) all moved on in their own directions.
Rejoice North Alabama fans, as a new era of athletic competition is on its way. The move will seem like it will take forever, and titles will be a process, but the strength of UNA should allow for this move to pay extreme dividends for all athletic programs, as they look to make a bigger mark on the college athletic world.
As ASUN Conference Commissioner Ted Gumbart said in the press conference, "Today we cheer for [the] University of North Alabama and for the ASUN Conference."