The ASUN Conference has added three new members and will also sponsor Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) scholarship football, the conference officially announced on Friday.
Following a unanimous vote by the ASUN Presidents’ Council, the University of Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky University, and Jacksonville State University will each join the conference for the 2021-22 season.
“When a conference embarks on a mission to strengthen itself through expansion, it has to present a case for why membership with one conference would be more beneficial to the institution than membership in its current conference,” ASUN Commissioner Ted Gumbart said. “The ASUN spent two years examining and defining its advantages and then presenting interested candidates with the option to join. Every institution will select the best option for conference affiliation from the available options. Each institution owes it to the student body, the athletic department and the university community as a whole to do what is best for the university. The ASUN works extremely hard to build options. To know that these three institutions have evaluated their options, and knowing each had multiple choices for conference affiliation and that they chose the ASUN is a great achievement. The ASUN Presidents’ Council set this process in place years ago when the Council members challenged the conference to be a great destination, and that would attract new member interest. The plan has worked and we are thankful for the visionary leadership of our Council to prioritize the student-athlete experience and the institutional value of being a member of the ASUN.”
Central Arkansas is leaving the Southland Conference, while both Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State will depart the Ohio Valley Conference. They will join Kennesaw State and North Alabama, members of the ASUN that both play football in the Big South Conference.
The ASUN will begin play in the FCS in the fall of 2022. The conference hopes to add a sixth member, a number that is required in order to receive an automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs. Austin Peay and Chattanooga are two schools that have been mentioned as possibilities.
Two ASUN members that play football, Liberty and Stetson, will not be a part of the new FCS league. Liberty competes as a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) Independent and would not drop down to the FCS, while Stetson competes in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League.
As for where Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, and Jacksonville State will play football during the fall 2021 season, no official announcement was made today.
On Thursday, Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports reported that the WAC, which is returning to the FCS this fall, is “…finalizing a plan to add 3 schools (Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, and Jacksonville State) as associate members for football only in 2021.”
If those three schools do play in the WAC in 2021, Kennesaw State and North Alabama would likely remain as football-playing members in the Big South until 2022.
Update (3:50pm ET)
In a Ted Talks About… Football video posted to the ASUN’s YouTube page, Commissioner Ted Gumbart answers the question of when the ASUN will begin football.
“Every ASUN member will be eligible for an AQ (automatic qualification into the FCS Playoffs) next year (fall 2021),” Gumbart said. “We have multiple options as to how we will partner up with other conferences to make sure that happens. And then the following fall, we will have a full ASUN schedule and be eligible for postseason play.”
Additionally, EKU director of athletics Matt Roan addressed the Pete Thamel report that EKU, UCA, and JSU might play as associate WAC football members in 2021.
“That is speculation at this point in every sense of the word,” Roan said. “I till tell you that, for us, first and foremost our goal with the current five ASUN football members that we have at this point and time, our goal is to grow by one or more members before the fall of 2021. The ASUN has an existing partnership with the Big South that will allow us to have automatic qualifying access to the NCAA FCS Playoffs. Admittedly, we have had some conversations with a group of four schools who are competing in the WAC beginning July 1 of this same year. So we’ll continue to have those conversations, but first and foremost our goal is to continue to expand ASUN football to six, seven, as many as eight members. But if we’re required to be creative in a scheduling partnership, or scheduling arrangement, certainly not an affiliate membership in any way, we’ll have some more on that at the appropriate time.”
EKU director of athletics Matt Roan addresses the rumors about EKU football joining the WAC for a season of football in 2021 while all of the other EKU sports teams compete in the ASUN. pic.twitter.com/hVUqoU8d9N
— Eastern Progress Sports (@SportsEP) January 29, 2021