Goodwell, Okla.—Panhandle State Athletics was granted full membership into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) on Wednesday, April 12 at the76th Annual NAIA National Convention in San Diego, Calif.
Describing the ten-month long process, Dr. Tim Faltyn, president of Oklahoma Panhandle State University said, "This has been a difficult journey, but I'm so proud of the work put in by our entire athletics staff, as well as the support received from the Central States Football League and Sooner Athletics Conference. This wouldn't have happened without such a concerted group effort from all parties involved."
All ten of the Aggies newly sanctioned sports will enter into full NAIA schedules starting in the fall of 2017, and each will be eligible for post-season play. Nine sports including baseball, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's cross country, men's and women's golf, softball and volleyball will compete in the Sooner Athletic Conference (SAC), with football entering into the Central States Football League (CSFL).
With the addition of Panhandle State and Central Christian College, the SAC now supports twelve member schools: Bacone College, John Brown University, Mid-America Christian University, Oklahoma City University, Southwestern Assemblies of God University, Southwestern Christian University, Saint Gregory's University, Texas Wesleyan University, University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Wayland Baptist University. Six of the twelve schools are located within the state of Oklahoma, with three in Texas, two in Kansas and one in Arkansas.
Panhandle State football will compete against some familiar opponents in the CSFL, joining schedules once again with Bacone, Southwestern Assemblies of God, Texas College, Wayland Baptist and long-time rivals, Langston. New teams to the league include Arizona Christian and Lyon College (Ark.). Head Coach Russell Gaskamp looks forward to a very competitive season saying, "I think we can compete in a conference championship in football quickly, while renewing a commitment to excellence in all of our athletic programs."
Athletic Director Wayne Stewart commented on the school's acceptance into the NAIA ranks, "I am excited and pleased with the decision of the NAIA Council of Presidents to accept Panhandle State into NAIA membership beginning this fall. I also want to thank the Sooner Athletic Conference presidents, athletic directors and commissioner for their support and acceptance of our programs." Stewart added, "I look forward to this positive change in associations and conferences and anticipate great things for Aggie Athletics as we begin writing the next chapter in the life of Panhandle State."
Each coach has expressed support for the change with Head Women's Basketball Coach Charles Terry saying, "I'm so glad that the process has played out and we can begin our next journey with the NAIA. I'm looking forward to facing the new challenges that lie ahead." Men's basketball coach Jerry Olson believes that the move will greatly save on travel costs, which will have long term, positive impacts on other athletic resources.
While all sports expect to face stiff competition in their new leagues, many see that as a refreshing opportunity to strengthen their programs. Panhandle's head volleyball coach Mike Stephens said, "Confirming our acceptance as an NAIA institution is a terrific opportunity for our program and university as a whole. It will be great to compete on a much more regional scale, and we can start working towards meeting our athletic goals right away this fall." Aggie Baseball's head coach Jason Miner is excited to join such a prestigious conference and feels it will provide a great place for his team to compete for years to come.
Commenting from the student athlete's perspective, junior men's basketball player Jake Regier said, "Going into the NAIA level is an amazing opportunity for OPSU and all of the student-athletes on campus. I am very excited to join the Sooner Athletic Conference, and we cannot wait to put together championship caliber seasons for Panhandle State and the surrounding community as we take this next step in our athletic department."
Aggie fans can expect plenty of excitement in the upcoming seasons and will not want to miss out on one moment of the action. The fun beings on Thursday, August 31 with Aggie Football's season-opener at home against NCAA-DIII opponent McMurry University; CSFL play opens on the road Sept. 23 at Bacone. Panhandle volleyball kicks things off with their annual Aggies Challenge Tournament Sept. 1-2 and will compete in their first SAC contest against USAO that Saturday. Complete 2017 schedules for both football and volleyball are available at opsuaggies.com with other sports soon to follow.