By Spencer Jacobson, Staff Writer
As spring semester comes to an end, so is Newman’s time in the Heartland Conference.
As Newman makes the transition into its new conference, the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, Joanna Pryor, Newman’s new athletic director beginning July 1, said that students can get excited about less travel and better competition.
When the Heartland Conference decided to dissolve, there were multiple conferences that the university could try to become a member of, Pryor said.
The Lone Star Conference and the Great Lakes Valley Conference were options but options that were not local and would require much travel.
The other two options, the Great American Conference and the MIAA, were both much more local but had bylaws in their constitutions that prohibited schools without football programs from becoming members.
Before a decision was made, in an attempt to expand their conference, the MIAA changed its bylaw and now accepts schools without football, Pryor said.
As of now, the university will be an associate member of the MIAA, meaning that athletic teams are still involved, can still compete for conference championships, but do not have full membership yet.
“The dissolving of the Heartland was going so quickly that they recognized that ‘Newman needs a place to go. We are going to say yes, they can come in as associate members,’ and then that gives us time to go through the full membership process,” Pryor said.
Pryor said the full membership process takes quite a while and is a process the university will start in the fall.
Heading into the MIAA, Pryor said she thinks coaches and student-athletes are excited about the potential of less travel and more local recruiting due to the closer proximity to other members of the conference.
“It’s going to be less travel. It’s going to create an opportunity to miss less class which is always important to the student,” she said.
Along with the positives of transitioning into the MIAA, Pryor said she sees the potential for some challenges as well.
“We see the competitive side of the challenge. They are one of the toughest Division II conferences in the NCAA... I think another challenge is facilities. They have a lot more than we do but that is something that we can address and I think that is something the people can get excited about and support,” she said.
Pryor said that as of now, the university does not have any plans to make any changes to facilities.
“We just don’t know yet. We are going to learn a lot in the first year,” she said.
Coaches agree that transitioning into the MIAA will bring its challenges, yet are looking forward to the opportunity for their teams to compete in one of the most competitive conferences in the NCAA Division II.
Darin Spence, the head women’s basketball coach, said that his program is excited for the move to the MIAA and is focusing on its growth and development in all aspects of the game.
“As a head coach, I don’t want to just exist in the league and struggle. I want to thrive and be a major player in the best women’s basketball conference in the country,” he said.
In addition to team development, Spence said that to be competitive in the MIAA, the team will need investments from the university as well as an increase in fan and community involvement.
“Yes, this is an exciting time, but it is going to take all of us here at Newman University to make this happen,” he said.
PHOTO: JOANNA PRYOR said students can get excited about less travel and better competitoin in the MIAA conference. Courtesy photo, Newman Athletics