Mississippi team celebrates “losing independence” with new NCAA membership

Published 10:15 pm Thursday, June 29, 2023

The July 4 holiday is traditionally a cause to celebrate independence. But for the Mississippi University for Women, our nation’s upcoming birthday remembrance will actually coincide with its intercollegiate athletics program – happily – losing its “independence”.

That is because in a letter dated June 28, 2023, to President Nora R. Miller, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) informed The W that it has successfully completed its mandatory Year Three Report and, consequently, has obtained full active membership status in the NCAA Division III. The Owls had been competing as an independent institution, without an NCAA or conference affiliation.

The NCAA’s letter from Brittany Higgins, Assistant Director of Academic and Membership Affairs, and Eric Hartung, Director of Division III, stated “I am delighted to inform you that during its June 21-22, 2023, meeting, the NCAA Division III Membership Committee voted to grant Mississippi University for Women active Division III membership status effective Sept. 1, 2023. Beginning in the 2023-24 academic year, Mississippi University for Women will be eligible to participate in NCAA championships.”

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Reaching full membership also triggers the Owls’ conference affiliation with the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC), set to begin in the fall of 2023, which was contingent on The W’s program successfully gaining full NCAA III affiliation.

“We are proud of what our Athletic Director and staff have accomplished since we reinstated intercollegiate athletics six years ago,” President Miller said. “Being accepted as full members of the NCAA and the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference is a testament to that hard work. This achievement reflects our commitment to providing a high-quality athletic program that fosters excellence, integrity, and sportsmanship. We look forward to seeing our student-athletes compete at this level.”

It also ends a six-year span (four of which have been spent in the NCAA membership process) – including two hampered by COVID – of The W athletics teams often competing in a somewhat-nomadic and unbalanced manner since athletics was reinstated on the campus in the fall of 2017. Especially when it came to scheduling and travel. While the Owls’ teams did compete in the small college United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) those years – to provide opportunities for academic honors, post-season awards, and championship competition for its student-athletes – ease of scheduling, geographic rivalries, and a broader championship experience now come to Columbus as a by-product of The W’s NCAA III and SLIAC memberships.

“The SLIAC is extremely excited about Mississippi University for Women joining the conference,” SLIAC Conference Commissioner Dick Kaiser remarked. ”The leadership from the President – Nora Miller – on down to everyone in the Athletic Department has made a strong commitment toward being a quality member of the conference. The SLIAC has been building schedules and working with the various MUW administrators for going on three years. Everyone in Columbus should be extremely proud the institution stayed the course, even after a bit of a hiccup, and completed the D-III membership process with flying colors. This will be a great day in the history of Owl Sports when they can proudly display the NCAA logo on their campus.”

As a testament to the collective efforts of The W’s athletics staff, the NCAA III Membership Committee cited The W’s reports – for both Year Two and Year Three – for completeness, organization, and as exemplary work. Both reports submitted by The W topped 2,000 pages and were “labors of albeit sometimes arduous, that paid dividends for The W in the end.

Kaiser reiterated the significance of The W’s efforts. “The amount of work, effort, and perseverance it takes to move an institution into full NCAA D-III membership is beyond daunting. The SLIAC is extremely proud and happy the Owls have completed the process and will become full D-III members on September 1st.”

The W’s acceptance into the NCAA also coincides with the 50th anniversary of Division III, which will be celebrated on August 6, 2023. Division III started Aug. 6, 1973, with 240-member schools and conferences. Today, NCAA III has more than 475 active schools and voting conferences as members.

The SLIAC was formally chartered in September of 1989 and the first championships were conducted during the 1990-91 school year. The constitution of the conference is structured according to the NCAA format and all member schools are associated only with the NCAA. Scholarships to SLIAC schools are based on academics and need only. There are no provisions for athletic scholarships. This helps assure that the student-athlete is a student in the purest sense.

SLIAC institutions provide student-athletes the opportunity to compete on an equal and competitive level, thus permitting the student-athletes the opportunity to compete for conference, regional and national championships. Team championships are contested in women’s cross country, soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball, and tennis. Men’s championship sports are cross country, soccer, basketball, baseball, golf and tennis.

With the addition of The W – as well as Lyon College (Ark.) – beginning in 2023-24, the SLIAC will be composed of 10 institutions in Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi and Arkansas. The current eight members are: Blackburn College, Carlinville, Illinois; Eureka College, Eureka, Illinois; Fontbonne University, St. Louis, Missouri; Greenville University, Greenville, Illinois.; Principia College, Elsah, Illinois; Spalding University, Louisville, Kentucky; Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri; and Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri.