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UNA earns full NCAA Division I status

FLORENCE — You can go ahead and call them the NCAA Division I University of North Alabama Lions, now.

UNA, long a Division II sports power, has completed its requirements of reclassification and has been elected to active Division I status effective with the 2022-23 academic year.

The NCAA Division I Board of Directors notified UNA it has attained full Division I membership benefits, including NCAA postseason eligibility beginning this fall. The move wraps up UNA’s four-year reclassification period from Division II to Division I.

“It is with great pride that we acknowledge the final action by the NCAA to grant full and active Division I status to the University of North Alabama,” UNA President Dr. Ken Kitts said. “Our athletics staff, along with many members of the campus community, from faculty to staff to students, have participated in helping realize this very important goal.

“Being Division I is the natural next step in the university’s growth and evolution as the first-choice institution for students across the region and the globe, and I am confident that our student-athletes will compete strongly on this national stage.” 

UNA’s Board of Trustees voted Dec. 6, 2016, to accept an invitation from the ASUN Conference and begin the transition to Division I in fall 2018.  

Since that decision, no Lions teams have been eligible to compete in the NCAA postseason  for the last four years.

North Alabama student-athletes, however, were successful during the transition, claiming numerous conference, regional and national awards. That success includes five Division I Academic All-America selections, as well as two team appearances in ASUN Conference Championship games.   

The university has also continued its upward trajectory, with enrollment climbing more than 24 percent since 2018. Currently the fastest-growing four-year institution in the state of Alabama, UNA also recently became a doctoral-granting institution.

In addition, beginning this fall, all 14 of North Alabama’s athletic teams will be competing in the ASUN Conference for the first time.

“This is an energizing and transformative time to be part of the University of North Alabama,” UNA Director of Athletics Dr. Josh Looney said. “Exceeding NCAA reclassification standards is among the most demanding multi-year processes an institution can undertake with its athletic department. This accomplishment reflects a true team effort with numerous campus and community leaders contributing to this historic moment.

“We are especially grateful to the student-athletes who competed during the transition and want to thank our fans and alumni for their support during this process. Growth is present throughout the University of North Alabama and Lions athletics is ready to ‘Raise The Roar.’”  

The four-year transition process involved numerous members of the UNA administration, faculty and staff,  with Dr. Eric Kirkman, director of Kilby Laboratory School, serving as the chair of the Transition Committee.

“The transition process to Division I status has truly been a labor of love, and a journey that was well worth the trip,” Kirkman said. “It was also an honor to work with such an amazing group of faculty and staff serving on the transition team over the last four years. … This transition helps to solidify our presence in the region as a viable option for a high-quality postsecondary and graduate-level education.

“Thanks to the great leadership in our athletics programs and our University, UNA is on the move, and this transition is just one example of that.”

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