As of July 1, we are finally members of NCAA Division I. It has been something that has been imminent for almost a year now, but finally, Texas A&M-Commerce is at the top of the college athletics rung. We are here.
Now, I will admit, and actually this was the opinion of the entire staff here, I did not feel that Division I was where we needed to be. I saw it as an impulse move that people wanted to use for status or to say “I went to a Division I school.” However after those initial feelings had their say, I started to dig deeper into why the move was the best for us and why I believe when it is all said and done, we will be happy we did this.
First, all of our sports will be fine on the Division I level. Football is a winning program and we are looking at building something that has not been in existence for a while and that is a full decade of winning seasons and post game appearances and national title runs. Cross Country and Track will continue to run against the same quality opponent and the fact that we can invite DI programs to the East Texas State Cross Country Meet and the East Texas State Track meet will really serve to buoy our program into the spot light.
Volleyball, I don’t know how that will play out based on the past couple of seasons and I will have more on that as the season starts because that program has seen the least amount of news, but I do know that Basketball is one of those sports that is played as a great equalizer. Good Basketball players are good players on any level. We can go against any Division I school in the country, both Men’s and Women’s, and now with the extra scholarships they will pick up, it will allow them sign more players and a better quality player at that. The athletic department also gave Women’s Coach Jason Burton and Men’s HC Jaret von Rosenberg multiple year extensions to give two proven coaches the resources and the reward they deserve and our programs the needed stability in coaching and recruiting.
Our storied Women’s soccer program will be lead by former Mississippi State and Texas Tech assistant Ashley Gordon. Though this is her second collegiate head coaching job, she looks like she might tailor made to take over the program that former coach Neil Piper built into a national contender on the Division II level. The bar has already been set but with Gordon’s affiliation with club teams in the greater DFW area and her experience winning a National title on the Junior College level with Richland College and on the high school level at Duncanville High. Most of our recruits come from the immediate Dallas area, and now the quality of recruit goes up, but even when Neil Piper was here, the quality was already high as the program pumped out some VERY good student athletes and the program routinely had the highest GPA of all the programs.
Softball……just go every knows this, there was controversy this year and up until recently I had no idea about it. The unfortunate thing is that there is not much clarity on it but I know this much. Richie Bruister took a program that had never existed and never had a losing season, got to the NCAA Division II tournament 3 times and won a ton of games and set the foundation for the entire program. All I know is that he departed for some reason and is no longer here. Gay McNutt stepped into the role and oversaw a program that won it’s first conference tournament championship and saw us host another regional championship series. The ending was bittersweet for sure. I will have more thoughts on this particular situation at a later time.
The Golf programs have seen tremendous success in the past 2-3 seasons and have collected a lot of hardware. Ryan Hand is a tremendous coach and has a great pedigree and is a proven winner. Lise Malherbe, the Women’s Coach, has done a tremendous job with the Women and looks to be a promising young coach. Both Golf teams have done tremendously well the past two springs and unlike many sports, Golf teams on the college level are usually not separated by a lack of parity, a good golfer is a good golfer. It comes down to facilities and support, and the program has both.
Finally, Football. We have a good schedule with many opponents that we can beat and also give us a good test. David Bailiff has been here before. Rice, Texas State. He had success at both places and knows what it takes to win at the Division I level and we all know that. We also have a roster full of former Division I guys who are now Division I guys yet again, along with experienced coaches who know how to win and recruit at this level, and a fan base that at this point expects nothing less. 50 years removed from their first national title, and 5 years removed from their most recent one.
Well, as they say, welcome to the Southland. We are here. Time to work.