July 1, 2020
By Richard Thiberville, Jr.
PINEVILLE, La. – The Louisiana Christian University athletic department announced on Wednesday that it has formally applied for admission to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), with an eye on joining the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) for all sponsored sports except football, which aims to join the Sooner Athletic Conference (SAC).
“After the better part of the past year analyzing the College’s athletic program, in addition to numerous conversations with Director of Athletics, Coach Reni Mason, and with our Board of Trustees and other external stakeholders, we have decided to apply to the NAIA. This move was supported unanimously by the College’s Board of Trustees,” said Louisiana Christian University President, Dr. Rick Brewer.
Louisiana Christian University notes five points for why the Wildcats and the NAIA are better together; fit, fan engagement, regional alignment, a core footprint, and a level playing field for the student-athletes.
“This move reflects a desire to provide our student-athletes an outstanding experience as we believe LCU’s athletic programs will be competitive in each sport with the genuine opportunity to compete for conference and national titles,” continued Dr. Brewer. “The College’s best days in athletics was during the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s when it competed in the NAIA for conference and post-season titles in women’s basketball, men’s basketball, and baseball.”
The greatest NAIA Tournament appearance for Louisiana Christian University came at the end of the 1985-86 women’s basketball season where the Lady ‘Cats made it to the national semifinals, now called the “Fab Four” by the NAIA, defeating Georgia Southwestern 85-78 in the consolation game to finish that tournament in third place. That was one of five trips to the NAIA National Championship Tournament by the Louisiana Christian University women’s basketball team during that span, with the first coming in 1985 and the last coming in LCU’s final season before the move to NCAA Division III in 1999. The Wildcats men’s basketball team qualified twice for the NAIA National Championship Tournament, in 1979 and 1990.
During its previous stay in the NAIA, Louisiana Christian University was a member of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC), where the Wildcats won conference championships in men’s basketball (1990-91), baseball (1987), women’s basketball (1984-85, 1985-86, 1988-89, 1989-90, & 1998-99), and women’s cross country (1987).
“I fully embrace the opportunity to move to the NAIA. This will allow all of our athletic programs a fresh start, a chance to rekindle some old rivalries that have sat simmering in the background for the past two decades, and an opportunity to create some new ones with some familiar adversaries,” said Louisiana Christian University Director of Athletics and Head Men’s Basketball Coach Reni Mason. “This move will also allow us to create a stronger footprint in our state.”
If Louisiana Christian University is accepted into the SSAC, it would restart old rivalries with former GCAC foes Loyola University New Orleans, University of Mobile, and William Carey University, all of which are currently in the SSAC. While the decision to seek inclusion into the SSAC wouldn’t make Louisiana Christian University and NAIA & fellow Rapides Parish institution LSU Alexandria conference foes, moving to the NAIA would mean a chance for the two teams to compete against each other more often on more even terms, one of those terms being the ability to offer athletic scholarships upon completion of the move.
Brewer continued, “Competing against LSUA in most of our sports will enhance support for both institutions from our CENLA neighbors.”
Should Louisiana Christian University join the SAC for football and SSAC for all remaining sports, it would allow LCU to spread its brand through athletics from the desert southwest of Arizona through the plains of Oklahoma to Georgia and Florida through conference competition. LCU would retain the title of having the only non-Division I college football program in the state of Louisiana.
But one of the biggest reasons that makes the NAIA feel like a good fit for Louisiana Christian University, the NAIA’s Champions of Character initiative and its five core values of integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, and servant leadership. The NAIA, especially the two conferences which LCU is seeking acceptance into, includes numerous faith-based institutions. “This transition reinforces the significant role of institutional ‘fit’ and alignment in terms of the NAIA’s values for Champions of Character, competition against majority Faith-based peer institutions, and a level playing field regarding resources and facilities,” Brewer stated.
Should the NAIA, SSAC, and SAC approve Louisiana Christian University’s applications, the school anticipates starting play in the NAIA and those conferences at the start of the 2021-22 academic year.