Northern Kentucky University will accept an invitation Thursday to join the Atlantic Sun Conference, putting NKU in Division I collegiate sports. NKU has scheduled a special Board of Regents meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss intercollegiate athletics. Spokesman Chris Cole would not confirm that the university would join the Atlantic Sun, but representatives from that league have been on the Highland Heights campus and have expressed interest in NKU before.
NKU was turned down by the Ohio Valley Conference in mid-November and also had talked to the Summit League.
The move means NKU will play a full conference schedule starting in fall 2012. It will immediately be eligible for conference championships in individual sports, but will serve a four-year probation before it can participate in post-season tournaments for team sports or share conference revenue.
Atlantic Sun Commissioner Ted Gumbart would not confirm an invitation to NKU. But he acknowledged the site visit and said he was impressed with NKU’s campus and facilities, particularly the 10,000-seat Bank of Kentucky Center.
“I think their program is in a position where they’ve been preparing to be a successful Division I program,” Gumbart said Wednesday. “From what I’ve learned to this point, there’s a lot of things to value in terms of the university and the athletic program.”
The move is another sign that the national merry-go-round among Division I athletic programs has reached well beyond the Big East Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference and other traditional powerhouses.
NKU, which competes in the Great Lakes Valley Conference in Division II, is simply trying to join the game with an expansion to Division I.
Its teams have been powerful in Division II. The men’s soccer team won the national championship last year, joining the women’s basketball team in 2008.
The expansion will nearly double NKU’s current $4.2 million athletic budget. But NKU leaders think they will recover those costs in additional publicity, ticket sales, sponsorships and and student enrollment.
NKU will rank third in total enrollment in the Atlantic Sun, which also includes East Tennessee State, Jacksonville and Kennesaw State.
The Bank of Kentucky Center will instantly be among the biggest in the conference.