Texas A&M University-Commerce Accepts Invitation to Southland Conference

By Josh Manck, Lion Athletics

COMMERCE – The Southland Conference, following the unanimous approval of its presidential Board of Directors, has extended an invitation of membership to Texas A&M University-Commerce, the league and institution announced Tuesday morning.  The university, a longstanding NCAA Division II power located an hour east of Dallas, will officially join the Southland on July 1, 2022, and begin a four-year transition into Division I at the same time.
“It is a distinct honor to join the Southland Conference,” Texas A&M-Commerce President Mark J. Rudin proclaimed in accepting the Southland’s invitation. “This decision was made with feedback from several key constituent groups at the university – led by our student body leadership. Careful and thoughtful consideration was given to assessing the opportunity to compete at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics.  As we finalized our decision, it became evident that this exciting initiative is squarely aligned with our institutional mission to Educate, Discover, and Achieve.”
“The presidents of the Southland Conference welcome Texas A&M-Commerce to the league and look forward to the university becoming a valued member of NCAA Division I,” McNeese State President and Southland Board of Directors Chair Dr. Daryl Burckel said. “From the beginning of our review, the Board of Directors quickly recognized the dynamic leadership of President Rudin, the institution’s strong academic record and its consistent athletic successes. Further, the university’s administrators, head coaches, staff and student-athletes have exhibited a consistent alignment in their views of this outstanding university and its Division I future in athletics.”
“It is a tremendous honor and opportunity to welcome Texas A&M University-Commerce, a noted institution of higher education with an outstanding athletic history, into the Southland Conference,” Commissioner Tom Burnett said. “We have every expectation that A&M-Commerce will become an outstanding member of NCAA Division I and the Southland Conference, continuing its long championships tradition of competing for league titles and national tournament berths.”
Touting a “Best in Class” mission, mentality, and experience, Lions’ athletics features sponsorship of 14 varsity sports, including men’s sports of football, basketball, golf, cross country, and indoor and outdoor track and field.  Women’s sports include basketball, golf, soccer, softball, volleyball, cross country, and indoor and outdoor track and field.
“Joining the Southland Conference is an historic opportunity for our institution and athletics program,” A&M-Commerce Athletics Director Tim McMurray stated. “This decision was assessed comprehensively and strategically, and I commend Commissioner Burnett, the Southland Conference Board of Directors, and the Southland Conference athletics directors for their camaraderie, communication, and engagement over the last month. Our student body and student-athlete voices were prioritized during this process.  Their advocacy and leadership absolutely validated this decision.”
The Lions have seen remarkable success in recent years, including winning the 2017 NCAA Division II Football National Championship, highlighting five consecutive postseason football berths since 2015.  Overall, 53 A&M-Commerce athletic teams have earned NCAA postseason bids since 2015, including a record 11 teams in 2018-19.  Other performance highlights include individual NCAA track and field national championships, an NCAA softball regional championship, and multiple recent NCAA berths in volleyball, and men’s and women’s basketball. 
In addition to its 2017 NCAA title, the Lions’ football program also won the 1972 NAIA national championship.  Other national championships have included men’s basketball (NAIA 1954-55), men’s golf (NAIA 1965) and men’s tennis (NAIA 1972 and 1978).  Prominent student-athletes at A&M-Commerce have included NFL stars Harvey Martin, Wade Wilson and Dwight White, and noted U.S. Olympic medalist John Carlos.
Founded in 1889, Texas A&M-Commerce serves rural and urban Northeast Texas with distinction, consistently delivering on a promise that founder Professor William Leonidas Mayo made more than a century ago: “No industrious, ambitious youth shall be denied an education if I can prevent it.”  To this day, the institution remains committed to its core mission: “Educate. Discover. Achieve.”
Formerly known as East Texas State University, the 2,100-acre Commerce campus provides many opportunities for students to learn and grow. The university offers more than 135 degree programs at the bachelor’s, masters and doctoral levels. A vibrant student life experience includes 14 competitive NCAA athletic teams, a thriving Greek system and more than 120 student organizations. Programs are delivered on site at the Commerce campus as well as in Dallas, Frisco, McKinney, Mesquite and Corsicana. A robust online academic menu of classes is also a point of distinction, and U.S. News & World Report has ranked several programs at Texas A&M University-Commerce among the best in the nation for 2021.
A member of The Texas A&M University System since 1996, the institution provides quality education to an inclusive community of diverse learners as one of the most affordable universities in East Texas.  Students work with world-class professors who dedicate themselves to excellence in teaching and research. The university maintains strong relationships with local industries to create relevant academic programs and valuable internship and networking opportunities that prepare career ready graduates.
Serving nearly 12,000 students, Texas A&M-Commerce is a leader in competency-based education, and is the nation’s first institution to offer an accredited competency-based bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and organizational leadership. The agriculture program is also a national stand-out, featuring one of the only programs where students grow their own experimental crops on the university’s 1,500-acre farm. In addition, A&M-Commerce upholds a 130-year legacy as an exceptional teachers’ college, graduating more than 400 certified educators in 2019. In 2020, the university opened the 113,470-square-foot Nursing and Health Sciences Building, featuring a state-of-the-art simulation hospital.
The A&M-Commerce athletics program is an NCAA Division II powerhouse, excelling in all areas.  The athletics department celebrates the comprehensive success of its student-athletes, including:
Recent Student-Athlete Comprehensive Success
12 consecutive semesters with student-athlete grade point average surpassing 3.0
Record 3.33 Student-Athlete overall GPA (Spring 2020)
Lion Leadership Academy and Responsible Lions Launch
Student-Athlete Nutrition Program (F.A.S.T.E.R.) Expansion
Launched Student-Athlete Performance Team (SAPT) in conjunction with campus partners
Restructured Thrower Academic Center to comprehensive Thrower Student-Athlete Success Center
Recent Student-Athlete Competitive Success
53 NCAA Team Postseason Appearances since 2015
Football – 2017 NCAA National Champions and five consecutive NCAA playoff berths (2015-present)
Single year record of 11 programs in NCAA postseason play (2018-19)
Consecutive years of all-time best department finish in NACDA Learfield Directors’ Cup Standings
Eight Track and Field individual National Champions (2016-19)
Softball – NCAA South Central Regional Champion (2018) and Regional Finalist (2019 & 2021)
Volleyball – Three straight NCAA Regional appearances (2019 regional finalist)
All-time high NCAA finishes for women’s indoor track and men’s indoor track (5th) in 2018
Men’s Basketball – Three consecutive NCAA appearances for first time in school history (2017-19)
Women’s Basketball – Three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances
Men’s Indoor Track – Three consecutive conference championships (2016-18)
Women’s Golf – first NCAA National Championship berth (2021) – ninth-place finish
Men’s Golf – NCAA West Regional Champion (2021) – fifth-place finish
Recent Resource Management/Accountability
Eight largest annual gifts in 105-year athletics history
Six largest corporate gifts in 105-year athletics history
Successfully completed department’s first multi-year strategic plan (2016-2019)
Launched 2019-2022 strategic plan in alignment with institutional mission
Athletic private giving up 109%
Garnered over $6.17 million in media valuation during 2017 NCAA football championship
Restructured athletics administration and facilitated six key executive team hires
Recent Athletic Facility Construction / Renovations
Locker Rooms constructed – Football, Soccer, Softball, Women’s Track & Field, Men’s Track & Field
Locker Rooms renovated – Men’s Basketball, Women’s Basketball, Volleyball, Golf
Brand new Hall of Fame construction (Summer 2020)
Football Team Meeting Rooms / Recruiting Spaces / Coaches’ offices
Comprehensive facility branding updates (in conjunction with Under Armour)
Volleyball, Women’s Basketball, and Men’s Basketball player development rooms
Recent Business Development/Executive Strategy
New Business Development (LSP Growth)
Taymar Partnership – outbound ticket sales and partnerships
Hometown Ticketing – new ticket company…more fan-friendly
From Now On – new Lion Athletics App
INFLCR and INFLCR Verified partnerships (Uproar NIL Program)
About the Southland Conference
Founded in Dallas in 1963 and now in its 59th competitive season, the Southland Conference celebrates the academic and competitive achievements of its member institutions and their student-athletes.  The league, based in Frisco, Texas, now includes nine members in Louisiana and Texas, and sponsors 19 NCAA Division I sports, with NCAA Championships automatic berths in 12 applicable team sports.  The league has won numerous national championships, including the 2020 NCAA Division I FCS title, and wins regularly in other sports in NCAA postseason play, including the 2021 Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.  The Conference’s student-athletes perform exceptionally well in the classroom, as graduation rates and NCAA Academic Performance metrics are at all-time highs.  Further, all current Southland athletic programs qualify for the new NCAA Academic Performance Fund.  The league also features a newly-expanded agreement with ESPN Networks, broadcasting hundreds of competitions each year, and is represented in the national corporate sales marketplace by Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment.  The league has also served as the host conference for the successful NCAA Division I FCS Championship Game in Frisco since 2011.
John Sharp, Chancellor, The Texas A&M University System:
“What a tremendous opportunity for Texas A&M-Commerce as they join the Southland Conference.  With the leadership of President Mark Rudin, the vision to expand the institution’s footprint in the DFW Metroplex and the recent success of its athletics programs, I am confident this move will elevate the institution to new heights. What a great day for the Lions!”
Dr. Jim Phillips, Commissioner, Atlantic Coast Conference:
 “Today’s announcement brings together two organizations that will greatly benefit one another. Having been to campus and followed the recent success of Texas A&M-Commerce, I’m pleased they have the opportunity to join the Southland Conference. Lion Athletics will be a terrific fit for the Southland Conference, led by Tom Burnett. This is the epitome of what a partnership should be, and I wish both all the best as they lead their respective organizations into this next chapter.”
Jeff Schemmel, Founder and President, College Sports Solutions:
“Having worked with the good people at A&M-Commerce on various initiatives over the last two years, this transition to NCAA Division I and the Southland Conference is a very good fit.  It is a vibrant campus with outstanding executive leadership, top-flight coaches and successful student-athletes, both athletically and academically.  It is an exciting day for both the institution and the Southland Conference.”
Ross Bjork, Director of Athletics, Texas A&M University:
“This is a monumental moment for Texas A&M University-Commerce and its athletics program.  As a fellow System member, it is always great to see the power of the Texas A&M University brand at work, and I know that Texas A&M-Commerce will represent the state of Texas and our System with great distinction at the Division I level.  On a personal note, I’ve known Tim McMurray for over 20 years and I am super proud of his work.  There is no one better to provide leadership during this transition.  It is a great day for Texas A&M-Commerce.”
Bob Beaudine, President & CEO, Eastman & Beaudine:
“Texas A&M-Commerce is a national championship program and an institution that bridges East Texas with the DFW Metroplex in a way no one else can. Their great track record of athletic and academic achievement and the strong leadership of their president, Dr. Mark Rudin, and athletic director, Tim McMurray, make them an ideal partner for the Southland moving forward.”
Dan Gale, President, Leona Marketing Group:
“I could not be more excited for the Texas A&M-Commerce family on their move to the Southland Conference.  Having had the pleasure of working with the leadership of both great organizations, I know it will be a great fit for all sides.”
Tim Duncan, Vice President of Athletics and Recreation, University of New Orleans:
“As a member of the team who visited Texas A&M University-Commerce, I would be hard pressed to find another institution with the alignment from student-athletes to the University executive team.  I look forward to working with the Texas A&M-Commerce executive leadership to continue the ascent of the #SouthlandStrong proposition.”                       
Steve Moniaci, Director of Athletics, Houston Baptist University:

“We want to welcome Texas A&M-Commerce to the Southland Conference and look forward to many great competitions with them on the playing fields and many great collaborations with them off the field. We bring them in not just as an athletic department, but as a university. Becoming a Division I institution and joining the Southland, certainly, is further evidence of that success.”
Greg Burke, Director of Athletics, Northwestern State University:

“What a great day for the Southland Conference to welcome to its membership a university and athletic program which has a ton of upside. Texas A&M-Commerce on several levels – competitive, academic, geographic and administrative, just to name a few – immediately makes our conference better and is a great fit for the outstanding eight universities which currently comprise the Southland.