The Lincoln Blue Tigers are on the move. Well, the football program, at least.
The Lincoln football program will join the Great Lakes Valley Conference as an associate member starting with the 2014 season.
The Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, where Lincoln currently resides, and the GLVC have entered into what's called a Strategic Conference Football Scheduling Alliance that will allow both Lincoln and Southwest Baptist to join the GLVC as football-only members.
Both schools will remain full MIAA members and will still compete in the league in every other sport.
"I think it's a very good move for the institution," Lincoln athletic director Betty Kemna said. "The schools in the GLVC are similar in our size, we used to play these teams before our move to the MIAA, so it was an opportunity that we thought we could do very well in again conference-wise."
The primary reason for Lincoln's move reflects a difference in opinion with the MIAA in scheduling philosophy. The MIAA prefers an 11-game conference schedule, while Lincoln desires a 10-game league slate that allows for a non-conference tilt.
"Our biggest thing is we were wanting some non-conference games to play schools with a similar mission as ours as a (Historically Black College or University)," Kemna said. "This gave us the opportunity to do that."
Lincoln had been pushing for the 10-game conference schedule over the last few years, which eventually led to a vote among MIAA chief executive officers.
"It was presented to us that maybe we have an alternate solution," Kemna said.
Thus the move to the GLVC for football.
Following discussions that involved Kemna, Lincoln University president Dr. Kevin D. Rome, head football coach Mike Jones and the conference commissioners, the plan was accepted through a voting process among CEOs from the MIAA and GLVC.
"I am excited about this strategic alliance and believe it is a benefit to all MIAA institutions," MIAA commissioner Bob Boerigter said. "Grant Teaff (executive director of the American Football Coaches Association) has encouraged Division II conferences to work together to help grow and sustain Division II football. GLVC commissioner Jim Naumovich and I believe that this will help meet football scheduling challenges in both conferences."
There are more benefits for the Lincoln football program than just opportunities for non-conference games. It gives Lincoln the chance to be more competitive on the field. The Blue Tigers, currently in their third season back in the MIAA, have won just one league game in that span.
"That was one of the reasons that it caught our interest," Kemna said. "Just the size of the schools, the geographic region of the schools that we would be playing. There's five schools within a two-hour drive of us. That's a budget-save overall. The team that we have now would be very competitive in the GLVC. We're playing the SEC of Division II right now against schools that are fully funded (scholarship-wise), and we're not fully funded."
Said Jones: "You don't want to say one league is better than the other. We know how tough and how aggressive and how good the MIAA is. You're leaving a conference that is the equivalent to the SEC. I really don't know enough about the GLVC to even comment on them. It wouldn't be fair to them or the MIAA. It's a new move, it's exciting because it's new and that's pretty much all I know about it so far."
Kemna insists the football program's move to the GLVC is not a precursor for the athletic program making the switch.
"This right now is just an alliance for football," she said. "The GLVC has no intentions of adding any more institutions. They're sitting at 16 right now. At this point they have no interest in moving on. Just the alliance with football.
"It would help them out with only eight schools playing football, and one of those was actually an associate member like we were (Kentucky Wesleyan). However, they will be leaving the GLVC. They've pulled their membership starting next year. That left the GLVC with only seven institutions. It's very hard to schedule that many open dates among all the institutions. This gives us an opportunity to play non-conference games and a more competitive schedule within the conference, and it allows us for a conference championship."
The current seven football-playing institutions (not including Kentucky Wesleyan) in the GLVC are: McKendree (Ill.), Indianapolis, Saint Joseph's (Ind.), Truman State, Missouri S&T, Quincy (Ill.) and William Jewell.
Lincoln and Southwest Baptist will make it nine next season, giving the Blue Tigers eight conference games and the chance to play three non-conference contests.