FLORENCE, SC – A report was presented to the Francis Marion University Board of Trustees on Friday that examined the Patriot athletic program and made some recommendations about the future of the program, including changing its NCAA classification.
The report was compiled by the Athletic Study Committee, a group appointed by FMU president Fred Carter in June to study the future of FMU athletics. The report was presented as information, asking the president and athletic director for recommendations pertaining to its implementation.
After examining an extensive amount of data and discussing a wide range of topics, the group’s findings focused on three main directives.
Their initial finding was that the university should explore the possibility of moving from NCAA Division II status to Division I status. This would begin by petitioning the NCAA to move the men’s golf and women’s soccer teams to Division I affiliation. Once accomplished, the university would assess the success of these two programs over several years, in an effort to determine the feasibility of moving the entire 14-sport athletic program to Division I status.
This evaluation period would also allow Francis Marion additional time to upgrade facilities and enhance the operating budgets of its 14 sports in order to be competitive at the Division I level.
The committee also stated that the university’s remaining 12 sports should continue to compete in the Peach Belt Conference during this transitional period, but that officials should explore (Division I) affiliation opportunities consistent with the school’s changing status.
The final finding of the group was that the university should continue at its current sponsorship of 14 sports, seven for men and seven for women. In addition to golf and women’s soccer, these include baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s soccer, women’s softball, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s track and field, and women’s volleyball.
The committee included FMU athletic director Murray Hartzler, longtime university vice president Joe Heyward, graduate and FMU board of trustee member George McIntyre (chairman), and three former Patriot student-athletes: Wayne Huggins, Robert Moore, and Deborah Wall.
The committee feels this plan offers the university an opportunity to capitalize on its many past athletic successes, while building a stronger and more enduring athletic program for the future.
FMU opened its doors in 1970 with an athletic program that sponsored men's basketball, men's golf, and men's and women's tennis. In 1972-73, Francis Marion became a member of District Six of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). The women's athletic program was under the national affiliation of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) until 1982, when that program also joined the NAIA. In the late 1980s, Francis Marion joined the Palmetto State Conference, which still fell under NAIA affiliation. In 1990-91, Francis Marion joined the newly formed Peach Belt Athletic Conference (now the PBC), and began the process of moving its national affiliation to Division II of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The school and conference became full-fledged members of NCAA Division II in 1992.
Francis Marion has been represented by student-athletes in NCAA Division II national tournament competition every year since moving to NCAA membership in 1992. This includes the 2003 golf national championship, a pair of women’s tennis (doubles) national titles, nine trips to the men’s tennis tournament, and five appearances in both the women’s basketball and women’s tennis tournaments.
Prior to joining the NCAA, FMU captured a pair of national championships in women's basketball (AIAW Division II in 1982 and NAIA in 1986), and placed second in the NAIA in women's softball in 1987.
Since joining the 12-member PBC, Francis Marion has won nine team championships and has twice earned the Peach Belt Conference Commissioner's Cup trophy, signifying the most successful all-around athletic program in the conference. FMU is annually among the leaders in the PBC in students qualifying for the Presidents’ Honor Roll (which requires a B average).