OK, so it's not official yet. Becoming a member of Division I athletics is not an easy process. But I just can't help but be overexuberant about this latest blockbuster news from the annals of conference realignment. From The Associated Press:
Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word have been invited to join the Southland Conference. Abilene Christian announced on Monday it had received an invitation. The West Texas university says that if it accepts the invitation as expected, all sports except football would enter league play in 2013. [...] A spokesman with Incarnate Word in San Antonio confirmed Monday the school has been invited to join the league.
See, I've heard of Abilene Christian. In fact, Abilene Christian used to be in Division I, when it was a member of -- you guessed it -- the Southland Conference. Since 1973, the school has competed as a Division II member of the Lone Star Conference, where it has excelled primarily at track: It's men's and women's track programs have won a combined 57 track and field championships, fourth in all collegiate sports divisions to only UCLA, Stanford and USC. True story.
Incarnate Word, on the other hand -- I'm preemptively sorry to the folks at Incarnate Word for saying this, but it's true -- sounds like the kind of questionable storefront diploma mill that the NCAA has so desperately attempted to destroy since 2007.
It isn't, of course. In fact, Incarnate Word was founded in the 1880s as an outgrowth of a mission by the Sisters of the Incarnate Word. Since then, according to its website, it has developed into one of the largest premier Catholic liberal arts institutions in the Southwest, especially lauded for its foreign study offerings. It was also the first "American university granted approval by the government of China to offer accredited degrees in mainland China." Accredited degrees in mainland China? That's a school ahead of its time.
And now that school -- pending the four-year NCAA Division I transitional process, which would allow UIW to begin competition for scheduling purposes in 2014-15 and become fully eligible for championships in 2017-18 -- is about to become a member of Division I. So, if I may, allow me to be the first to officially welcome the University of the Incarnate Word to the NCAA's ever-growing Division I college hoops big tent.
The name may invite "Sisters of the Poor" jokes, but as the old saying goes: Don't judge a book by its transitional Division I cover. Or something like that.