By Devon Jeffreys
Graphic by Carina Hayes
The worst-kept secret in Flagler College Athletics is finally official. Flagler will begin the 2006-2007 season as an NCAA Div. II school.
After a waiting process that seemed to last the entire spring semester and a good portion of the summer, the Flagler athletic department received the news in late June they had been waiting for. The school will now enter a probationary period that could last two to three years and will start out without conference affiliation. However, jumping to NCAA gives Flagler Athletics an immediate boost in status and recognition.
“The move will bring notoriety for the college and we fit better academically with those schools,” women’s soccer coach Teddy Meyer said. “The local public that’s not as much affiliated with Flagler College will see NCAA and say, ‘Wow, wait a second. So now they’re going to be playing JUs and UNFs all the time?’ Well not all the time, but we are going to be playing them.”
But with the move come challenges that coaches and teams of each program will face.
“The competition level will be higher, which I think most of the coaches are excited about,” women’s volleyball coach Taylor Mott said. “The teams we’ll be competing against in most of our sports, there’s not a big gap. There are no really great teams and really terrible ones. Everything is just more on an even keel.”
A higher level of competition is seen as a positive challenge for Flagler, which seemed to be growing out of its position in both the Florida Sun Conference and the NAIA. “When we’re playing Barry, Lynn, Tampa and Eckerd it’s going to be a battle,” Meyer said. “It’s going to be a challenging and exciting game. That’s what a coach wants and that’s what a player, when they leave high school, wants.”
But Flagler will have to wait before it reaps the full rewards of being an NCAA Div. II school. For the first few years Flagler will be in a probationary period with the NCAA and will not have a conference or postseason eligibility, something the coaches agree has been a turn-off to some recruits.
“The biggest thing is not knowing how long we’re going to be without postseason,” men’s soccer coach John Lynch said. “Student athletes are competitors and they want to play to win. Not having a postseason might scare off some potential student athletes.”
With programs including tennis and golf that participated in NAIA National Championship play last season and are perennial candidates to do so, the loss of a postseason could be a big setback.
“We lost four or five kids because of no postseason,” men’s basketball coach Bo Clark said of his recruiting efforts for the 2006-2007 season.
With a lack of postseason comes a loss in motivation. The coaches know that their teams will have a tough time dealing with the lack of games after the regular season ends, but each coach is finding a different way to deal with the hurdle. Meyer has scheduled his ladies soccer team against some of the hardest teams in the country — both NCAA and NAIA. He has also included two games to be played in Tennessee, a luxury he wouldn’t have had if the team were postseason eligible.
“Right now we’re playing big time teams so when we are eligible for postseason and all these girls have been playing unbelievable teams, it’s kind of a laugh when we play Sunshine State teams,” Meyer said. “That’s kind of the whole goal, to play a harder schedule now and next year and so hopefully as soon as we’re eligible for postseason, we’re making a run at the conference championship.”
Clark has entered his team in a postseason tournament to take place in Fort Myers, Fla., at the end of the season. While it may not get them a postseason berth, Clark is excited his team has something to look forward to.
Mott points out that the Sunshine State Conference is as high a level as you can get in Div. II. “I try to sell that level of competition, competing day in and day out against some of the best teams in the country,” she said. “The Sunshine State conference has four or five top 20 teams in that conference. So hopefully when we can schedule those opponents. Recruits will be excited to be able to play at that level on a daily basis.”
Lynch feels it is his team’s job to carry the torch for Flagler in to the NCAA. “For me the big motivating factor is that this is the first Flagler men’s soccer team ever to compete in the NCAA, whether or not it goes into the books of the NCAA,” he said. “This will be the team that brings Flagler into the NCAA and I want to come in with a bang and say ‘We’re here and as soon as we’re eligible for postseason, we’re going to be qualifying for postseason.'”
Despite the struggles they may face going in and the hurdles of recruiting, the coaches are ready for the NCAA and in the end feel they will reap the rewards.
“Initially there is going to be no postseason and there are going to be recruits that pick other schools over us because of that,” Meyer said. “But when you look at it, once we become Div. II [with postseason eligibility], we’re not going to be losing kids.”