A couple of hours after Eastern Kentucky University Director of Athletics Matt Roan officially announced that EKU will be moving to the ASUN Conference effective July 1, 2021, EKU Athletics hosted a press conference to address the transition and excitement for the road ahead.
“To say that we’re excited about this move is absolutely a gross understatement as was evidenced in our eagerness that we displayed earlier this week,” Roan said. “This announcement today is not possible but for the collective visions, our shared ideals and an aggressive pursuit of them as well as one another.”
Earlier this week, EKU Athletics accidentally released a “frequently asked questions” webpage on the EKU Sports website but quickly took down the webpage.
Roan was joined by EKU President David McFaddin and Board of Regents Chair Lewis Diaz.
McFaddin emphasized the importance of moving to a conference where EKU can reach more people and prospective students, alumni, and supporters.
“Joining the ASUN Conference provides Eastern Kentucky University the opportunity to share our story with a rapidly growing, more geographically diverse audience,” McFaddin said. “It is an opportunity to expand our reach and make an impact in areas where we have not traditionally shared EKU’s story. Eastern Kentucky University is known as the ‘school of opportunity.’ Our membership with the ASUN is an opportunity to raise our athletic profile, enhance our alumni connections, expand our brand and transform our student experience. And it's an opportunity to join a conference that shares a bold and innovative vision for college athletics and student-athletes. It makes this an exciting day and a logical move for EKU.”
The move to the ASUN Conference will offer access to prospective students, alumni and donors. According to EKU Athletics, nearly 100,000 EKU alumni live in the ASUN footprint. The change in conference will allow for more chances to gain media exposure and opportunities to reach audiences outside of the region.
McFaddin said that the ASUN aligns with and will strengthen EKU's focus on academic as well as athletic achievement.
“EKU has had 18 consecutive semesters of our student-athletes succeeding in the classroom, and we expect to do that and continue with ASUN and do it with those who value that student experience,” McFaddin said. “This level of performance is exactly what we expect at EKU... This is why we expect to win. We are excited about the future.”
A big topic of discussion surrounding the decision to move conferences was whether the EKU football team would play the 2021 season under the ASUN, move to a different conference or go independent for one year. The ASUN will begin sponsorship of scholarship football in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). In addition to EKU, Jacksonville State University and the University of Central Arkansas are also joining the ASUN Conference. These three join Kennesaw State University and the University of North Alabama as scholarship FCS football members of the ASUN.
Through existing and developing conference partnerships as well as future expansion plans, all ASUN FCS scholarship football programs will have immediate and ongoing annual access to automatic qualification (AQ) for the FCS playoffs. However, ASUN policy will permit members to declare their own football status. The primary focus of the next ASUN expansion phase will be to move to six football members that play scholarship FCS football. This will allow the ASUN to qualify for an FCS playoff spot without relying on a conference partnership.
“For us, first and foremost, our goal with the current five ASUN football members we have at this point and time, our goal is to grow by one or more members before the fall of 2021,” Roan said. “The ASUN has an existing partnership with the Big South that would allow us to have automatic qualifying access into the NCAA FCS Playoffs.”
Roan continued, “Admittedly, we have had some conversations with a group of four schools who are competing in the WAC beginning July 1 of the same year, so we will continue to have those conversations. But, you know, 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 a scheduling arrangement, certainly not an affiliate membership in any way, we’ll explore that at the appropriate time.”
Moving to the ASUN could also welcome more sports at EKU. The addition of football brings the total of ASUN sponsored sports to 20. Those sports include the following: men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s golf, football, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), beach volleyball, women’s lacrosse, softball and women’s volleyball.
EKU cut the men’s and women’s tennis teams in 2018. Men’s soccer is also not a part of EKU Athletics at this time.
“Just like conference affiliation, I think the programs that we sponsor [are] something that’s always under consideration or under evaluation,” Roan said. “Our focus right now is to give the 16 [sports] that we have and I’m looking out at them [the coaches], and they probably want to hear me say this, but it’s giving every single one of these head coaches the resources that they need to be successful.”
Roan continued, “When we think that we have done that comfortably again in the spirit of EKU as a school of opportunity, if adding sports or reinstating sports would provide opportunities for young men and young women to have access and opportunity here at EKU, that’s something we’ll evaluate down the line.”
Moving to the ASUN means that EKU will be traveling farther to compete in all sports and likely require a significant increase in funding for travel expenses. Lipscomb and Bellarmine are the only ASUN schools within 325 miles of EKU.
For a one-way trip to Florida Gulf Coast in Ft. Myers, Fla., EKU will travel 944 miles. On average, EKU will travel 497 miles one-way.
“At 12 members, we do have the opportunity and the plan to look at a divisional, regional scheduling format,” Roan said. “To where you’re minimizing your expenses by not traveling to those farther-away destinations as often as you may be traveling to those that are closer. Keep in mind if we do add one or two members, that puts us at 14, which allows for two seven-team divisions. It allows 14 schools to be divided with seven two-person travel partnerships.”
EKU was a part of the OVC for 73 years and was one of the founding members of the conference.
During its last full year of competition (2018-19), the ASUN enjoyed its most successful postseason with 19 postseason wins. In addition, ASUN student-athletes have excelled academically. More than 70 percent of ASUN student-athletes earned a year-long 3.0 GPA each of the past three years.
“The work starts now, and we’re excited to rise with the ASUN,” Roan said.
Watch the full press conference here.