A process that began in September culminated on Wednesday with Stephens College announcing acceptance to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
President Wendy Libby made the announcement in Windsor Lounge of Stamper Commons in front of several athletes and staff.
“The philosophy of the NAIA meshes nicely with our 10 ideals,” Libby said. “Membership in the NAIA also allows us to competitively recruit student-athletes, offer athletic scholarships and enter into postseason tournaments.”
Stephens, which has participated in NCAA Division III athletics since 1994, will be a provisional member in the NAIA starting in the fall. As a provisional member Stephens can’t go to NAIA national championships.
The switch allows Stephens to grant athletic scholarships for the first time in school history. An NCAA Division III mandate prevents schools from giving athletic scholarships.
The Stephens Board of Trustees passed a resolution Feb. 7 to pursue NAIA membership.
“I can’t say enough about what a great change this is for our institution for bringing in student athletes and increasing enrollment,” basketball coach Dane Pavlovich said. “There are just so many positives.”
NCAA Division III rules required Stephens to have five competitive sports: three team and two individual. Stephens competes in basketball, soccer, volleyball, swimming and tennis.
The NAIA doesn’t have similar requirements and Stephens could drop programs and use scholarships to develop a particular program.
Pavlovich said this decision will be made before the end of the school year.
“We aren’t sure which exact programs we’ll have next year,” Pavlovich said. “It could be considered a drawback, but it could be considered positive because it could allow us to grow.”
Stephens joins Columbia College and William Woods University as NAIA members. The Stars will compete in Division II. The Cougars are in Division I.
Stephens will continue to compete in the region and schedules are set for next season.
“I definitely think that in the next few years we’re going to be a lot more competitive,” said Amy Diaz, a sophomore basketball player. “I think the NAIA is going to attract a lot more athleticism to our campus.”
Athletic Director Deb Duren said 15 athletes are thinking about attending Stephens.
“This is an awesome day for athletics at Stephens College,” Duren said. “It’s great to now be a member of an association where I think the playing field may be more level and it will give us the opportunity to do some things that we haven’t been able to do in the past with our athletic program.”
Sports history at Stephens
Duren has seen numerous changes since arriving at Stephens in 1984. From 1989 to 1994 there were not competitive sports at Stephens. In 1994, after Stephens became a member of NCAA Division III, it reinstated the swimming, tennis and volleyball programs. It also added a soccer program and the name “Stars.”
Basketball became Stephens’ fifth competitive sport in 1998 with the completion of the Silverthorne Arena.
With acceptance to the NAIA, Duren said more changes are possible.
“Conference membership is something that is available to us in the NAIA in ways that it probably never was in the NCAA,” Duren said. “I think conferece membership can do things for a team that as an independent you can never do.”
In addition to improving its 1-18 season, Pavlovich said he hopes to create a stronger fan base for the basketball team as well as Stephens’ sports.
“We hope to be not just the university on the corner of Broadway,” Pavlovich said. “But we want to be something that everybody likes to come to see; a good brand of basketball or volleyball or whatever sporting event we provide.”