For more years than most can remember, the Lee University Flames have been considered a perennial powerhouse in the NAIA’s Southern States Athletic Conference in an array of sports whose spectrum ranges from men’s baseball to women’s soccer and volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, and the list includes golf, tennis and softball.
In each category, young Lee athletes — men and women — have excelled and their excellence in competition at the national level has brought an even bigger and broader spotlight to the Cleveland and Bradley County community.
Those who argue against such a move pose the question, “Why leave a tradition anchored by years of success in the NAIA by risking it all with a move to NCAA Division II where the threat of obscurity looms in the short- and long-term?”
Any who support this argument — and it is their right — do so because they enjoy the limelight of victory that Lee University has delivered on the national stage in the NAIA. Their concern is the challenges an NAIA team will face in the athletic arena against powerful NCAA Division II teams.
We understand their reluctance, but we don’t buy in to the argument.
Lee University is making the right move.
But let us be clear. It is not yet a done deal. Although the Gulf South Conference has extended an official invitation of membership, the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) must still approve the move. The GSC excecutive committee has opened its arms to Lee University so now the local institution is making application with the NCAA. The massive collegiate athletic organization is expected to make a decison on the Lee request by mid-July.
The Lee University decision to seek NCAA membership is being done for all the right reasons. Perhaps we can offer some perspective.
If this was about employment, Lee’s move from the NAIA to the NCAA would be a promotion.
If this was about personal income, Lee’s move from the NAIA to the NCAA would be a nice raise.
If this was about careers, Lee’s move from the NAIA to the NCAA would be a company worker agreeing to a transfer to another department in order to gain valuable experiences which in the long-term will expand his potential for the future.
If this was about self-development, Lee’s move from the NAIA to the NCAA would be a college graduate’s decision to pursue a master’s degree and then a doctorate.
It’s about growth. It’s about opportunity. It’s about being the best you can be.
Those who fear Lee University athletic teams will no longer enjoy the same level of success competing against NCAA Division II teams are urged to embrace challenge, not back away.
Look at the school’s own history.
Remember the days of the former Lee College? It was a good school, but it struggled with its own limitations. Its academia was unexplored. Its athletics were suspect. Its time in the national spotlight was untested and unproven. All this changed 25 years ago with the arrival of Dr. Paul Conn as president. Those who have followed the school’s history will be among the first to agree.
Lee University has arrived. Its success is unquestioned in the NAIA. It is indeed a powerhouse — athletically, academically and spiritually, much to the credit of Conn’s leadership. This is the same president whose vision seeks NCAA Division II membership.
The time has come to raise the bar. Lee University no longer is a child among men. This Cleveland-based institute of higher learning is ready for the next level.
That next level is the NCAA. Lee University likes the Gulf South Conference, and frankly, the Gulf South loves Lee. It is a case of mutual benefit. The Gulf South and the NCAA can bring even more prestige to Lee University, and Lee’s success in athletic programs like volleyball, golf and soccer can strengthen the Gulf South.
If the school’s application to the NCAA is accepted, its athletic teams assuredly will be tested in the early years.
But it’s a part of the growing experience. And Lee University is ready for this step. It is timely. It is refreshing. It is the right thing to do.
We will have more to say in Sunday’s edition.
Until then, we say hat’s off to Lee University administrators, the school’s board of directors and all who have shared in this quest.
It is one well worth the making.