Becoming a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II school means bigger and better things for Concordia University Irvine – literally and figuratively.
The NCAA is the governing body of athletic programs at more than 1,200 higher education institutions throughout the United States. CUI is in its final year of the three-year Division II membership process and anticipates full membership in 2017-18. If approved, it will be the only NCAA DII school in Orange County.
Even students who don’t play college sports recognize the distinction the title will bring.
“Having the NCAA marker for our school is something that a lot of athletes are going to gravitate toward as a potential school to go to,” said CUI senior Conor Koester. "And also non-athletes, they will see they’re a part of NCAA, meaning our sports really are something worth going to because a lot of our teams are competitive every single year in their division and in their conferences."
Senior Christian Woodfin agreed. “I think student-athletes will think this is a much bigger deal than NAIA because NCAA is plastered all over the nation,” he said.
I think it means dreams becoming animated because growing up as an athlete insists on the goal of playing sports in college at the NCAA level.
Prior to pursuing NCAA DII membership, CUI was a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Over the last five years, CUI has won five NAIA National Championship Titles in baseball, men’s basketball, women’s volleyball, men’s volleyball, and softball.
The transition to NCAA DII will bring CUI more publicity and allow its athletes to shine brighter as they compete at a higher level, Woodfin said.
“I love Concordia's vibe of striving to be the best we can be,” he said.
We'll get a nice NCAA logo on our jerseys, and I know it’ll bring our students together even tighter, on the court and in our new bleachers that are going to rattle so loud from the feet banging our Eagles to victory.
Woodfin, who describes himself as a “super senior,” said he participates in 98 percent of the activities at Concordia, including intramural sports and the Screaming Eagles. Intramurals allow non-athlete students to play against each other without being part of an organized sports team. Screaming Eagles is a group of student sports fans who pump up the crowd and get students to cheer at athletic events.
“I've always been a crazed athlete. In the crowd and off the bench,” Woodfin said.
I know the deeper meaning behind being an athlete and what a strong crowd means to the team. We're the sixth man at the basketball games and every other sport. We're a part of the team even though we stay relatively put in the crowd.
Koester also plays intramural sports and is a die-hard supporter of Concordia’s student-athletes.
“Since we are a smaller school, I have a lot of the athletes in my class so I get to know them, and that makes it a lot easier to support them, actually knowing them outside of just their sport,” he said. “Also having school pride has always been big for me. Since I played sports in high school, I like to show support for the school I’m attending.”
CUI has 20 varsity sports and about 450 student-athletes. Sports bring together students, faculty, families and the community, Koester said.
“It definitely brings us closer, getting everyone coming into a basketball game or a volleyball game or going to a baseball game,” he said. “You see everyone has so much passion. Even if they’re not playing, they have passion for the sport by going out and supporting it.”
Koester is excited about the growth he sees in Concordia’s future. He said being a DII school is the catalyst that can help CUI grow.
“It will definitely impact our campus with all the different things that come with NCAA,” Koester said.
“Our school is currently upgrading our basketball gym and that’s exciting,” he continued. “It might be a slow process, and I might not be at Concordia when it finishes because I graduate in the spring, but I’ll be able to come back and see what it grows into."
Koester said it is important to him to be able to say he was at Concordia at the beginning of the NCAA DII membership process.