FLORENCE, SC - Francis Marion University learned Monday (Aug. 8) that the NCAA has accepted its petition to move the Patriot golf and women’s soccer programs from Division II affiliation to Division I.
The university received official word in a correspondence from Vanessa Fuchs, assistant director of membership services for the NCAA. With this announcement, effective this fall, the two programs will no longer be affiliated with the Division II Peach Belt Conference, but will compete as Division I independents. The remaining 12 sports offered at FMU will continue as members of the PBC.
“This is an important day for Francis Marion University athletics,” said FMU president Fred Carter. “To compete at the Division I level of the NCAA is both a challenge and a privilege for FMU. All alumni, current students, and supporters of Patriot athletics can take pride in this announcement.”
Following a two-year transition period, the women’s soccer and men’s golf programs will be full Division I members, beginning with the 2007-08 seasons. During that year, the university will assess its entire athletic program, including how it has met goals, concerns, and issues. A decision will then be made as to whether to take the remaining 12 sports to Division I status.
FMU athletic director Murray Hartzler called the announcement, “an exciting moment in Patriot athletic history, and one that we have been looking forward to.” He added, “With this official word, now a good deal of hard work must begin. Both of these programs have been very successful at the Division II level, and we are looking to experience the same success in Division I. To accomplish this goal, we must step up our recruiting and fundraising, improve our facilities, and enhance our entire athletic department.”
This process began last fall (2004) with a report compiled by the Athletic Study Committee, a group appointed by Carter in June 2004 to study the future of FMU athletics.
As part of the petition to the NCAA, Hartzler explained, “We were required to submit a strategic plan that will be examined during the 2005-06 year. The NCAA will tell us how we have met our goals and what we may need to improve on or change. During this transition process, the athletic department must accomplish certain objectives during the 2005-06 year and additional items during the 2006-07 year.”
The Patriot women’s soccer team will open its 2005 slate with a Sept. 2 road match at Vanderbilt University. The schedule includes 10 matches against Division I opponents, including home matches against Howard University (Oct. 10) and UNC-Asheville (Oct. 18). Some Division II opponents will remain on the 2005 schedule as the team transitions to full Division I status.
“During the initial year (2005-06), we must meet all Division I requirements except for scheduling,” Hartzler said. “The following year, we must meet all requirements including scheduling.”
Francis Marion women’s soccer coach Martin Beall was pleased with the news. “With all of the success that our women’s soccer program has experienced since its inception (a .736 winning percentage over its 10 seasons), this is a logical next step. Our first-year schedule will challenge us, and will be used as a measuring stick to see just how far away we are from competing for Division I post-season play.”
The 2005-06 Patriot golf schedule includes tournaments hosted by the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, Old Dominion University, Troy University, Davidson College, Furman University, and Wofford College. FMU will also host two tournaments, Sept. 19-20 at the Country of South Carolina and Feb. 27-28 at the Wexford Plantation on Hilton Head Island, that will be comprised almost entirely of Division I schools.
“We have competed against Division I programs in the past,” said Patriot golf coach Mark Gaynor, “but now instead of a bonus to our schedule that improved our play, these tournaments will be the norm. I am excited about the challenge to take the golf program to a point where FMU is competing for post-season play at the Division I level.” Prior to coming to Francis Marion, Gaynor was the head coach at Division I University of Texas-Pan American for three years.
Francis Marion’s 14 intercollegiate sports, seven for men and seven for women, include baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, golf, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s softball, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s track and field, and women’s volleyball.
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 operated under NAIA affiliation. In 1990-91, Francis Marion joined the then 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, 10 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 11-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’ (academic) Honor Roll, which requires a B average.