NCAA representatives notified Union President David S. Dockery of the news in a telephone call July 11.
During the first year of the three-year process, Union's athletic teams still hope to compete in the NAIA's TranSouth Athletic Conference and will be eligible to compete in NAIA national tournaments.
The next two years, Union will move to competition in the Gulf South Conference and the NCAA Division II but will not be eligible for NCAA national tournaments. Union's 2012-13 athletic schedules will include Gulf South Conference members such as the University of Alabama at Huntsville, University of North Alabama, Christian Brothers University, Delta State University, Valdosta State University and the University of West Florida, among others.
The Gulf South Conference unanimously endorsed Union's application for NCAA Division II membership process.
Union is a Christian school affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
"We are so very pleased that the NCAA has opened the door for Union University to move forward with the membership process, which will allow Union to compete with NCAA Division II institutions," Union President David S. Dockery said. "We are grateful for the wonderful support that we have received from the Gulf South Conference commissioner and member institutions. The Union community is quite hopeful for good days ahead for our coaches, student-athletes and fans."
Nate Salant, commissioner of the Gulf South Conference, congratulated Union on the announcement from the NCAA.
"We are gigantically pleased, there's no other way to say it," Salant said. "This comes as no surprise to the Gulf South Conference, because Union University was a great candidate, possibly among the best ever for admission into Division II. We hope this is the start of a very long, successful, exciting relationship."
Union has been considering the possibility of an alignment change since 2009 and officially applied to the NCAA in May. Dockery said Union fits well with NCAA Division II and its commitment to the student-athlete, its "life in the balance" expectations for member institutions and the Division II's desire for institutions to be involved in off-campus community service.
Private institutions make up about 48 percent of NCAA Division II membership.
"The transition to NCAA Division II has been careful and deliberate," said Jerry Tidwell, Union's senior vice president for university relations. "The opportunity to compete at the NCAA Division II level generally, and in the Gulf South Conference specifically, opens doors to many new relationships for our coaches, student-athletes and entire Union family."
To comply with NCAA regulations, Union has named Gary Williams as its NCAA compliance officer and Katie Woodruff as senior woman administrator.
Dockery said Union will also consider the addition of new sports in the future, such as women's golf. Union currently offers 10 sports, which meets the requirements of NCAA Division II.
Another Baptist-affiliated school, Shorter University in Georgia, also has applied for NCAA Division II membership.
Compiled by staff of Union University and Baptist Press.
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