Newman University will enter the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) beginning fall 2019 as an affiliate member — and the excitement is building.
Newman President Noreen M. Carrocci, Ph.D., has called for a task force, which consists of faculty, coaches and staff, to start the process of learning how to make a smooth transition.
Task force members are Director of Athletics Victor "Vic" Trilli, Sports Information Director David Rung, Associate Athletic Directors Maureen "Mo" Rohleder and Joanna "Jo" Pryor, Head Baseball Coach Zane Ehling, Head Wrestling Coach Ryan Smith, Vice President for Finance and Administration Jennifer Gantz, and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Jill Fort, Ph.D.
One of the first items on the agenda for the task force is visiting and touring other MIAA schools.
During a two-day period, members of the task force will visit schools such as Fort Hays State University, Emporia State University and Washburn University, and will focus on talking with as many people involved as possible.
"We’ll talk about scholarships — how they handle them and how many they give, what their facilities look like and what we need to do so we can prepare," said Trilli. "This trip is for us to gather information but it's also a chance for us to talk about game-day operations, and how that looks in those places."
Trilli said they'll also prepare for a visit from the MIAA's own task force this fall, during which time the association will have its representatives come to Newman and do exactly the same thing.
Trilli added, "They’ll be here (at Newman) for two days to talk to different people, see our facilities and make recommendations to us about what we need to do as we get ready."
With all the changes that are happening, Newman is currently balancing two conferences, competing and participating in the current Heartland Conference while planning and preparing to join another.
"We’re changing," explained Trilli. "This year is a going to be a tough year for us because we have to be true in two leagues. We still have everything we have to do for the Heartland — our championships and all the games — but we have to divide between two leagues. We have to be diligent. The most important thing is what we’re getting ready to do here in a year. And there are things changing all the time."
The fall 2018 visit from the MIAA representatives could be even more important than just getting advice. Currently, the affiliate membership is only a temporary one. Trilli said his goal is to become a full member of the conference.
"My hope is that they’ll be coming here to look at us for full membership at that time," explained Trilli. "I can’t tell you that now, but that’s what the hope is. We obviously want the full membership status. Very soon, the MIAA will be voting whether they will allow full membership to institutions who don’t support football. That’s the driving force. If they do that, we’ll be the first institution to ever be involved in the long history of the MIAA without a football program."
Full membership goal aside, the Newman athletics program is doing everything they can to prepare for the MIAA. Of course, some of the learning won't happen until they are actively participating in the conference games.
Trilli added, "Sometimes, you don’t really learn until you’re in it. So a lot of our learning is going to happen that very first year. Once we get in, we’ll adjust. It took an adjustment when we moved into the NCAA, and then we became really strong. That’s what we’re going to go learn — how to get better. We're going to learn what is 'better' and what does that mean to us?"
The possibilities that are in front of Newman because of the switch are also a big factor. Because Newman is the only NCAA Division II private school in Kansas, the competition will include state universities — some of them pretty large. Trilli said the audience and fan structure at athletic games is going to look very different.
"The size of what’s going on is important," he said. "A lot is going to change. Our people are going to want to watch. Their people are going want to watch. Our games are going to look a lot different with this."
Trilli also said that the switch is not just big news for the athletics department.
"I’m excited about this. For Newman. Not so much for athletics, but for Newman. It’s a chance for the alumni to have something they can really get excited about. And it won’t just be Hall of Fame inductions or Homecoming. Right now, those are the big things. I want every game to be a big deal.
"This is huge for the whole school. It's going to make things happen."