FRISCO, TX (News Release) The Southland Conference and Oral Roberts University announced Tuesday that the institution will become the newest member of the NCAA Division I league. The Tulsa, Okla.-based university will become the 10th member of the Southland on July 1, 2012, and will begin competing for conference championships in the 2012-13 academic year.
The ORU Golden Eagles will participate in 15 of the Southland's 17 sponsored championships, including men's sports basketball, baseball, cross country, golf, tennis, and indoor and outdoor track and field. On the women's side, ORU will compete in basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, tennis, indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball.
"The Southland Conference, after a unanimous vote of its Board of Directors, is very pleased to extend an offer of membership to Oral Roberts University," said Dr. Baker Pattillo, Southland Board Chairman and the president at Stephen F. Austin State University. "Further, we are honored to learn of the institution's acceptance of our offer, and we are gratified by the approval of the ORU Board of Trustees, the leadership of President Mark Rutland and the diligent work of Athletic Director Mike Carter. The Southland presidents look forward to a beneficial partnership with ORU and its athletic program."
"Our number one consideration in this and all decisions is the well being of our student-athletes. We look forward to being a competitive member of such an excellent conference right here in our own neighborhood," Rutland, the ORU president, said. "This change in geography that the Southland Conference provides us will greatly benefit our athletes."
"The Southland Conference presidents have studied the possibilities of membership addition in the past few months," added Southland commissioner Tom Burnett. "From the beginning of the process, the Board has only shown interest in institutions that clearly bring added value to the league. That includes strong academic performance, athletic competitiveness and achievement, excellent playing facilities, geographic fit, media market size and presence in the market, and strong fan support. ORU excels in all of these categories, and this was evident as we began studying potential members."
ORU will be the first Oklahoma-based institution in the Southland's 48-year history, and will be the league's first private institution since charter members Trinity University and Abilene Christian University departed the conference in early 1970s. Tulsa is the nation's 46th largest city with a population of 391,906, and the greater metropolitan area includes approximately one million people. The area is also the 59th largest television market in the United States.
"Our league's geography provides travel and recruiting advantages in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and now, Oklahoma, and our warm weather fosters competitive and scheduling benefits for our teams," Burnett said. "Major airports in our region also facilitate reasonable and convenient air travel throughout the conference for our teams and fans when necessary."
Currently a member of the Summit League, the Golden Eagle program has set a strong competitive standard since joining the conference in 1997. Signifying all-around excellence, ORU has won nine Summit League Commissioner's Cups in 14 years, and the Golden Eagles have totaled 75 NCAA tournament appearances in that time. The athletic program has had 68 All-America selections since 1998, as well as an indoor and outdoor track national champion and two Olympians.
"The Southland Conference has proven that it is a strong and historic mid-major conference, and we are excited about competing in the league," Carter, the ORU athletic director, said. "The geographical footprint of the Southland will help us in recruiting, both for athletics and for the university."
In men's basketball, the Golden Eagles can boast defeating a team from a BCS or powerful basketball conference every year since 2002-03, including wins over No. 3 Kansas in 2006, No. 13 New Mexico in 2009, as well as other recent victories over Arkansas, Utah, Georgetown, Oklahoma State, Stanford and Missouri. The program has 13 postseason tournament trips in its history, including five NCAA tournaments and an Elite Eight appearance in 1974.
In women's basketball, the ORU program has advanced to five NCAA tournaments since 1999, and the team earned a WNIT appearance in 2010 after winning the Summit League title.
In baseball, ORU has made 23 NCAA regional appearances and has won a remarkable 14 consecutive Summit League championships. The 1978 team advanced to the College World Series in Omaha, and the baseball program has played in seven regional final games since 2002, and won a regional title in 2006.
Other ORU sports have seen a considerable amount of competitive success, including the women's volleyball team that advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight in 1995. The men's golf program has a strong tradition with 12 NCAA tournament appearances, four top 10 finishes in the NCAA championship, including national runnerup in 1981. The women's golf program has captured an impressive 14 consecutive Summit League championships and 11 consecutive NCAA appearances.
Since 1982, ORU track and field athletes have claimed 55 All-America honors, and the program boasts 106 NCAA championship qualifiers during the last 16 years. That includes 2008 indoor and outdoor 400-meters national champion Andretti Bain, who went on to win a silver medal as a member of the Bahamas' 4x400 relay team.
ORU's athletic facilities rank among the nation's best, and the university has recently invested resources into renovations at the 10,575-seat Mabee Center, home of Golden Eagle basketball, and at the 2,418-seat Johnson Stadium, home to ORU baseball. Additional improvements and new construction has also benefited volleyball, soccer, tennis, golf and track facilities.
Academically, ORU sports teams have earned a 3.0 or better grade point average in 13 of the last 14 years. In the NCAA Academic Performance Program, Golden Eagle athletic teams have excelled, none are currently penalized, and all but one team performing significantly higher that the new proposed penalty cut rate of 930. ORU's Academic and ELI (Education, Learning and Integrity) Center foster accomplishments in the classroom and prepares Golden Eagle student-athletes for life beyond college and athletics.
Founded in 1963, Oral Roberts University serves 3,259 students on its 263-acre campus in south Tulsa. The university offers 63 undergraduate major programs, 14 master's programs and two doctoral degrees through its six colleges. Accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, ORU ranks among the "Best in the West" universities by the Princeton Review, and has produced eight Gates Millennium Scholarship recipients and two Fulbright Scholars.
The university has approximately 24,600 graduates and serves a total alumni population of more than 38,000.
"For nearly half a century, the Southland Conference has proven itself as a consistent model of athletic and academic achievement, principled leadership, and innovation," Burnett added. "Since its founding in 1963, the Southland has focused on providing its member institution's student-athletes the best possible competitive and academic opportunities. Our league has experienced significant episodes of transformation during in its five decades, but has always found ways to work through changes and come out in a better position. The addition of ORU does this for us again, and we expect the Golden Eagles to excel and make our Conference even better.
The Southland Conference has excelled competitively throughout its history, including winning five various national championships in football, and advancing four men's basketball teams to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen and one to the NIT Final Four. The league has also sent a women's basketball team to the NCAA Final Four, another team to the NCAA Elite Eight and two squads to the WNIT championship game. In 2011, the Southland ranked as the eighth-best Division I baseball conference in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), and has produced numerous major league players, including 25 draft choices this year.
Southland softball teams have defeated nationally-ranked teams every year since 1995, the league has produced a women's volleyball NCAA Final Four participant, and track and field individuals have won a combined 32 NCAA championships. The Southland placed three men's golf teams into the 2011 NCAA regionals, and has produced two top-10 national NCAA team finishes since 2006.
Academically, the Southland has experienced the best improvement of all Division I conferences in the NCAA Academic Performance Program during the past five years, and in 2009-10, its men's basketball programs collectively had the 10th best yearly Academic Progress Rate (APR) among the 31 conferences. The league celebrates and honors academic achievement with its F.L. McDonald Postgraduate Scholarship Award, the Scholar-Athlete Award, the Commissioner's Honor Roll and the All-Academic Teams.
In 2008, the league developed the award-winning Southland Conference Television Network that provides more than 30 annual live productions of various sports events to more than two dozen regional and national affiliates.
Burnett added that the Southland will likely continue to review membership possibilities. "The Southland Board considers its membership review process open, and in the coming weeks and months, it is expected that the conference will primarily focus on the possibility of adding institutions that currently sponsor football or plan on doing so in the future," he said.
What others are saying...
Dr. Jimmy Simmons, President, Lamar University
"We welcome a first-class university to our conference!"
Robert Hill, Athletic Director, Stephen F. Austin State University
"We are very happy to have ORU join the Southland Conference. They will strengthen our conference RPI, especially in men's basketball and baseball. We are fortunate this opportunity became available, and we look forward to competing against them."
Brad Teague, Athletic Director, University of Central Arkansas
"The University of Central Arkansas is very pleased with the addition of Oral Roberts to the Southland Conference. ORU's participation strengthens an already formidable league, and the program is solid and represents success on many levels. Our programs look forward to competing against them next year and we welcome them to the Southland Conference."
Larry Tidwell, Women's Basketball Coach, Lamar University
"With the addition of Oral Roberts University to the Southland Conference, the bar has definitely been raised in both the athletic and academic arenas. ORU has a long history of athletic achievement in all programs and will bring even more credibility to a tradition-rich conference. In particular, men's and women's basketball play at a very high level, and women's coach Jerry Finkbeiner and men's coach Scott Sutton are two of the best coaches in the country. Yeah, the Southland definitely got better by adding Oral Roberts!"
Greg Burke, Athletic Director, Northwestern State University
"Amid the ongoing landscape of Division I conference membership changes and realignment, I am proud of the Southland Conference for attracting a quality institution and athletic program like Oral Roberts University to its membership. The Southland Conference is a better league today as a result of the addition of ORU."
Tommy McClelland, Athletic Director, McNeese State University
"Oral Roberts University will add great value to our league. Not only from an athletics standpoint, but from an academic one as well. The addition of ORU addresses an immediate need for scheduling, but also addresses the longer term need of adding value to our already great league."