With expansion of sports teams, Columbia College looks to add marketability

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 | 5:32 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Ten is a magic number for Columbia College's athletics department. 

When Columbia College adds women's soccer, men's and women's golf and men's and women's cross country teams to its slate next year, it will have reached 10 programs, the minimum number of teams a school must field to participate in NCAA Division II athletics. 

Athletic director Bob Burchard said the Cougars, who currently play in the American Midwest Conference of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), have no plans to seek a change in affiliation but thinks the expansion will make the department more flexible and marketable. 

"We don't have any master plan to go to Division II," Burchard said. "We're very interested in putting ourselves in a position that, if moves like that presented themselves, we would be able to at least apply without having to make major changes to the department."

While conference realignment has dominated the national college sports scene, other divisions have experienced similar changes. In the past four years, the Cougars' conference has lost McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill., and University of Illinois at Springfield to Division II. 

Although Burchard said the additional programs would make Columbia College more flexible and marketable, he said the NAIA has been a perfect fit for the college. 

"We are very fond of the NAIA," he said. 

Burchard also cited the number of NAIA institutions in Missouri and surrounding states as an advantage.

"I'm hopeful our conference is going to expand at the end of this year," he said. "If our conference expands, and the state and our region still have a great draw of NAIA students, we wouldn't even consider moving because it's a great fit for us." 

The athletic expansion process began in 2008, when Columbia College President Gerald Brouder formed a task force to find what sports would be the best fit for the school. With the college in a position to be able to handle the addition of about 75 student-athletes, the expansion was announced in August. 

Burchard said the move will help the school host a more diverse range of athletes.

"We felt that by adding men's and women's golf and men's and women's cross country, we add a different type of team sport to the mix, a little more individualistic," he said. 

The expansion will not require any new facilities to be built. The women's soccer team will share facilities with the men's team, while cross country needs no separate facility. Burchard said the golf teams will sign a contract to play on a local course, although they have not decided which one. 

Women's soccer and both cross country teams will begin play in fall of 2012, with the golf program following in the spring. 

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