Just a few hours after the shocking news that Albert Pujols had signed with the Los Angeles of Anaheim, the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference posted a press release on its website that I found to be nearly as stunning.
On Dec. 8, the SLIAC announced that former National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics member Iowa Wesleyan College had been voted into the SLIAC by the conference’s Presidents’ Council.
This news blindsided some of The Journal’s sports writers — including myself — because everything we had heard from sources close to the situation led us to believe that Iowa Wesleyan would not garner enough votes to make it into the SLIAC.
But now that Iowa Wesleyan has officially applied to become a provisional member of the NCAA, it seems inevitable that the university will be joining the SLIAC as its 10th member for the 2013-2014 academic year.
So the question shifts from, ‘Will Iowa Wesleyan make it into the SLIAC?’ to, ‘Should Iowa Wesleyan have made it into the SLIAC?’ The answer is yes, and no.
First, the good. SLIAC commissioner Will Wolper has told The Journal several times that the conference wanted to get to 10 members. Doing so provides the SLIAC with stability and makes scheduling a much easier process.
Wolper also said the move puts, “the final peg in our geographic footprint.” If the conference does explore expansion in the future, it won’t be any further north than Mount Pleasant, Iowa, where Iowa Wesleyan is located.
In its academics, enrollment, athletics budget, campus layout and facilities, Iowa Wesleyan fits the SLIAC’s mold. The university’s campus is compact and it certainly has the look and feel of a SLIAC school.
And, like Webster University, the only on-campus athletic facility Iowa Wesleyan has is its gymnasium. A majority of the university’s teams use off-campus, public facilities.
Now for the bad. The SLIAC is already considered one of the worst two or three conferences in the nation, and it certainly didn’t significantly improve by adding Iowa Wesleyan.
As an athlete at Webster, I was hoping the SLIAC would bring in a school that could compete with Webster, Greenville, Fontbonne and Westminster for SLIAC supremacy. I don’t think Iowa Wesleyan can.
Instead, Iowa Wesleyan will likely land in the second tier of schools, where Principia College and Spalding University reside. That’s good news if you’re an athlete who didn’t want additional competition for SLIAC titles. But I would have preferred a school that could have pushed Webster and made its sports teams better.
Granted, it’s not like the SLIAC had a surplus of options. There aren’t many schools located near St. Louis that would fit well within the conference. And it’s true that the Tigers do have a few programs — baseball, men’s and women’s basketball and possibly softball and volleyball — that could compete for SLIAC championships.
But you have to take into consideration that these programs were successful in part because they were able to offer athletic scholarships as a member of the NAIA. That won’t be the case in Division III.
And now, Iowa Wesleyan will have massive recruiting competition in the form of the D-III Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Many of the IIAC schools have excellent facilities and strong athletic traditions, so it will be tough treading for the Tigers.
In many ways, Iowa Wesleyan makes sense for the SLIAC. The university fits in well with the conference’s other institutions. But I wish the SLIAC could have found a school that stands out.