Director of Athletics Dennis Janzen received a phone call from the NCAA's national office in Indianapolis this afternoon informing him of the decision.
"We are very pleased and excited that the NCAA has approved our application to begin the membership process," said Janzen. "This is an affirmation for the entire university in terms of our history, what FPU stands for, and where our future as a comprehensive, Christ-centered university is taking us."
FPU now begins a three-year candidacy period beginning with the upcoming 2011-12 season, its final season in the NAIA. The university submitted its application for membership on June 1 which included financial studies, a strategic plan for the future, staffing and sports sponsorship, academic and athletic achievement, information on facilities and involvement in the local community.
"Acceptance into the NCAA membership process represents a wonderful opportunity for Fresno Pacific," said FPU President D. Merrill Ewert. "We are honored by the invitation, and believe our student athletes and coaches are up to this new challenge. The university has expanded substantially over the past 20 years so we're excited about aligning ourselves with the NCAA. Our continued growth as a university reflects our ongoing commitment to quality education in California's Central Valley and beyond."
Today's news also finalizes FPU's membership in the NCAA's Pacific West Conference (PacWest), which extended an invitation for membership last month contingent upon NCAA acceptance. The Sunbirds will begin playing a full PacWest schedule, and be immediately eligible for conference championships and awards, beginning with the 2012-13 athletic year.
2013-14 will be the university's final year of candidacy, before becoming a full-fledged NCAA Division II member in the summer of 2014. (see chart on next page)
Fellow GSAC members Azusa Pacific and Point Loma Nazarene also received the news today that they've been accepted into the membership process. Former GSAC member Cal Baptist was approved by the NCAA last year and has joined the PacWest. Holy Names, also invited to join the PacWest, will hear from the NCAA tomorrow.
FPU has competed in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) since 1964, winning 11 team national championships. The Sunbirds have become dominant at the NAIA level as nine of those titles have come since 2007. FPU has finished in the NACDA Director's Cup's top-four in each of the last four seasons.
The 2011-12 season will also be FPU's final year in the Golden State Athletic Conference, the university's athletic home for more than 25 years. FPU was a charter member of the GSAC in 1986 and has won 46 conference titles. With four of the 11 GSAC schools leaving for the NCAA, the conference will be left with seven members and just one that has won a national title in the last three years (Concordia).
The decision to make application to the NCAA was not one that was taken lightly. It began with a conference-wide study in 2009 to determine the viability of NCAA membership for GSAC schools and involved input from numerous on-campus committees as well as local business leadership, media and municipal government.
What resulted was a unanimous vote by the University Board of Trustees in June of 2010 to push for NCAA membership after it was found that FPU had become more in-line with the NCAA Division II in terms of funding, participation opportunities, sports sponsorship, and its commitment to community involvement and competitive excellence.
The NAIA has lost 128 members to the NCAA Division II over the last 15 years. Recent examples include Cal Baptist, Lindenwood (Mo.), McKendree (Ill.) and Simon Fraser (BC).
16 schools applied for NCAA Division II membership last month, 14 of them from the NAIA. The NCAA has stated it will accept around eight schools and will be informing the universities via phone calls today and tomorrow. In addition to the GSAC schools, NAIA members Southern Nazarene (Okla.), Trevecca Nazarene (Tenn.) and Union (Tenn.) were notified of acceptance earlier today.
Founded in 1906, the NCAA is the governing body for more than 1,000 schools serving more than 400,000 student-athletes and offering 88 championships in 23 sports. In 1973, the membership was divided into three divisions. There are currently 302 full members in Division II, not including those currently in the membership process.
"The NAIA will always be an important part of FPU athletic history," said Janzen. "They are an outstanding organization with a good future. As we move into the NCAA and the Pacific West Conference, we are excited for the new opportunities that membership brings, particularly for the student-athlete."
Fresno Pacific's NCAA Timeline
1st year of candidacy (2011-12) – FPU's final season in the NAIA & GSAC, fully eligible for conference and national championships.
2nd year of candidacy (2012-13) – First season as a Pacific West Conference member; eligible for conference championships and awards; not eligible for NCAA national championships.
3rd year of candidacy (2013-14) – Second season as a Pacific West Conference member; eligible for conference championships and awards; not eligible for NCAA national championships.
Summer of 2014 – Officially recognized as an NCAA Division II member; will compete for an NCAA national championship in all 16 FPU-sponsored sports in the 2014-15 athletic year.
*The NCAA membership committee will review each university annually to track the school's progress.
*The schools moving from the NAIA to the NCAA are committed to providing their teams with a national championship destination during the transition years, which could include various national invitational tournaments including the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA).
FPU Athletics History: The Road to the NCAA
1944 – Fresno Pacific University founded (as Pacific Bible Institute)
1951 – FPU club athletics formed (men's basketball, men's soccer, baseball)
1955 – First year of FPU intercollegiate athletics (men's basketball)
1962 – FPU men's soccer becomes an intercollegiate sport
1962 – Athletics nickname established as "Vikings"
1964 – FPU joins the NAIA (men's basketball, men's soccer, cross country, track & field)
1964 – First ever individual national champions and All-Americans (track & field)
1981 – Special Events Center built, nickname changed to "Sunbirds"
1982 – Women's volleyball and women's basketball added
1986 – FPU joins the GSAC as a charter member, wins first conference title
1989 – FPU wins first ever NAIA national championship (women's volleyball)
2001 – Women's Soccer program added
2006 – Men's & Women's Tennis programs added, Baseball program added
2008 – Men's & Women's Swimming programs added, Men's & Women's Water Polo added
2010 – Sunbirds finish a best-ever 3rd place in the NACDA Director's Cup Standings
2010 – FPU board of trustees votes to pursue NCAA membership
2011 – FPU joins Pacific West Conference, begins NCAA Division II membership process