Three years after playing its first football game in school history as an NCAA Division II independent, UIW is celebrating its entry into the Southland Conference and a step up to the Football Championship Subdivision.
SLC commissioner Tom Burnett invited UIW into the league at a news conference Monday afternoon at the McCombs Center on campus, a month to the day after he and a site committee from the league concluded a visit to the school.
Burnett's invitation drew cheers and applause from athletes, coaches, UIW officials and fans who gathered in the Rosenberg Room for one of the biggest moments in the history of the school's athletic program.
UIW's entry into the SLC, effective July 1, 2013, gives the league a continued presence in San Antonio after the departure of UTSA this summer.
All SLC football schools play in the FCS, formerly Division I-AA. The league competes in 17 sports in Division I.
UIW will remain in the Lone Star Conference, a Division II league, during the 2012-13 school year before starting its four-year transition to Division I in 2013-14. The Cardinals have been in the LSC since the start of the 2010-11 school year.
"This is great," UIW president Louis Agnese said. "Again, we're building the Cardinal brand in Texas and this is one more step in that process."
UIW will pay big bucks to move into SLC, Division I
The Cards won't be eligible for Division I postseason competition until the 2017-18 school year, when it's expected to meet all eligibility requirements, Burnett said.
UIW will pay a $100,000 entry fee and annual dues of $42,000 to the SLC, which has its offices in Frisco. UIW also must pay a fee to the NCAA to move up to Division I.
“The buy-in to the NCAA is based on the average return or revenue share,” UIW athletic director Mark Papich said. “When we first did our research, it was $1.3 million.”
The move to the FCS will bolster the school's fledgling football program, first-year head coach Larry Kennan said. .
"I'm excited because we'll be able to get into the homes of some recruits that we couldn't in to see before because we're not Division I," he said. "I didn't realize how big a deal that was until I got back into recruiting this year. It's a big deal.
"We signed a really good class without being Division I, but it will open more doors for us. We'll have to get a lot better because we're going to be competing at a higher level, although the Lone Star Conference is more anybody than can handle. There are some really good teams in the Lone Star, as there are in the Southland."
UIW's admission into the SLC was generally considered a done deal after Burnett and the site committee visited the campus last month. SLC presidents approved UIW's membership late Thursday in a conference call.
Abilene Christian expected to follow UIW into SLC
"We see a great future here," Burnett said. "That's what we kept coming back to once we finished that trip a month ago and we walked away. A lot of us had no idea what was happening here at this campus, and how great things were."
Burnett praised Agnese and others in the school administration for their leadership.
"I'm hard pressed to find another university where I've seen that kind of outward connection to the corporate community, business community and government leaders," Burnett said. "That left us all very impressed."
Schools currently in the SLC are Central Arkansas, Lamar, McNeese State, Nicholls State, Northwestern (La.) State, Oral Roberts, Sam Houston, Southeastern Louisiana, Stephen F. Austin and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. All but Oral Roberts and A&M-Corpus Christi play football.
Houston Baptist, which is adding football, and UIW will become members of the SLC on July 1, 2013.
Abilene Christian, a member of the LSC since the early 1970s, is also expected to be approved for membership in the SLC, giving the league 10 football schools. The SLC is also talking with officials from the University of New Orleans about joining the league.
UIW will play an SLC schedule in every sport but football at the start of the 2013-14 school year. The Cards will compete as a football independent in 2013 before playing a league schedule in 2014.
Agnese wants matchup with UTSA
UTSA was a member of the SLC from 1991 until it left the league to join the Western Athletic Conference last month.
"It's very important," Burnett said, responding to a question about the value of having an SLC school in San Antonio. "You don't want to leave the second-largest city in the footprint. That's what we have here. It's always going to be important to us, whether we have a school here or not.
"But it's always great to have one here. To the benefit of our other schools, they'll get to come here and compete on a regular basis in the heart of the city, and play football, too, on a regular basis."
Agnese said he would like to see UIW play UTSA annually. The Roadrunners played their first season as an FCS independent last year, but are on pace to become a full-fledged member of the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division I-A, by 2015.
UTSA will move into Conference USA next season.
"We would be very happy to play UTSA," Agnese said. "We'll play them wherever they want. I think it would be a great game for San Antonio."