SHAWNEE – Oklahoma Baptist cleared the final hurdle in its three-year transitional journey to the NCAA Friday with a recommendation of full membership from the NCAA Membership Committee.
As full members, the Bison and Lady Bison will be able to participate in conference and NCAA postseason events. OBU’s NCAA membership becomes effective Sept. 1.
“Getting the news that OBU has made it through the NCAA Division II membership process and has been accepted as a full member of the division is both an honor and a great achievement,” said OBU Director of Athletics Robert Davenport.
“This could not have been possible without the hard work and diligence of several people. First, I would like to thank Dr. Whitlock for his vision and leadership to put us on this path. Without his direction we would not have been able to move forward. Secondly, Associate Athletic Director for Compliance Steve Fluke has worked tirelessly on this project and without his unending efforts and dedication to his job we would have never been able to put the NCAA Division II compliance pieces together. And third, I would like to thank the entire campus as it took each and every person on campus to buy in to the NCAA Division II process and to embrace it in a way that has made the transition seamless.”
After listening to all sides of a debate on whether to pursue membership in the NCAA, OBU opted to journey from its longtime home in the NAIA to become a member of the largest association of college athletics on the planet, starting the process with an application for membership in 2014.
"We are pleased for Oklahoma Baptist University to be granted full membership into NCAA Division II,” said Dr. David Whitlock, OBU president. “Our athletics department staff, coaches, and many others on campus, are to be commended for their tireless work and efforts over the past three years, as we completed the transition process. Our coaches and players have competed well in Division II the past two seasons, and we are excited to see what the future holds. We look forward to continuing the rich tradition of excellence in Bison athletics as we move forward as full members of NCAA Division II."
The university offices, including the athletic department, were subject to NCAA training and evaluation, which included numerous visits from NCAA vendors and consultants. To move forward in each of the three stages, OBU had to demonstrate compliance with NCAA rules and standards.
Coaches, student-athletes, administrators and boosters were educated about the changes associated with the membership move and rule changes made from year to year.
In addition to success on the field, OBU, already committed to academic excellence, had to formalize policies to ensure academic success for student-athletes.
OBU won its third consecutive Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup in its final year in the NAIA in 2014-15 and then won the National Christian College Athletics Association’s Presidential Excellence Award in 2016 and 2017, giving OBU five consecutive All-Sports awards.
“One of the tenants of the OBU mission is excellence,” Davenport said. “This transition makes us pursue excellence like never before. OBU Athletics has the finest group of coaches in the entire NCAA Division II. Things changed for them as well. All of the rules they had worked with for years changed overnight. They have embraced those changes and we have already seen improvements in each program. These changes are not just athletic. We can now recruit and sign student-athletes who are better prepared for the rigors of OBU academics and can compete at a high level. Our graduation rates were on par with the rest of the campus before the transition. Now, those graduation rates are rising and the department-wide GPA is over a 3.0.”
OBU won 20 NAIA National Championships and 13 NCCAA national titles, including a sweep of all eight NCCAA crowns this spring. OBU also set a collegiate record, winning four NAIA national championships in one day, sweeping men’s and women’s swimming and diving, as well as men’s and women’s indoor track in 2013.
The Bison and Lady Bison took up residence in the Great American Conference in the fall of 2015 in most sports, while joining the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in swimming and diving and lacrosse.
“This is a big day for the Great American Conference,” said GAC Commissioner Will Prewitt. “We are excited to have our 12th school eligible for conference and NCAA championships, especially when that school owns one of the most storied athletic traditions in small college sports like Oklahoma Baptist. Kudos to the work that President Whitlock, Robert Davenport, and their staff have completed over the past three years in the Division II membership process. We’re thrilled that OBU is over that hurdle and can’t wait to see the Bison at GAC championships starting this fall.”
OBU has won regular season league titles in men’s soccer, men’s tennis and women’s tennis since joining the GAC and will be eligible for postseason participation starting this fall.