Salant said the conference’s executive committee unanimously voted to extend the invitation Thursday evening. The National Collegiate Athletic Association will decide in mid-July if Lee is accepted into the membership process. If accepted, the Flames would be incorporated into all 2013-14 athletic schedules and become eligible for postseason play in the 2015-16 season.
Salant, who described the Gulf South Conference “as the SEC of Division II,” said the conference is excited about the opportunity to include Lee University.
“It has a gorgeous campus, academics are strong, the school is continually growing and they’ve competed incredibly in the NAIA on the national level,” he said. “We want to strengthen our league in certain sports and they are strong in those sports. Lee University has had success on the national level across the board. The Gulf South Conference is considered the SEC of Division II, so it’s a natural fit to bring in a national power from the NAIA into a national power conference.”
He said Lee is a good fit because of the Gulf South’s strong history in women’s basketball, women’s softball and women’s tennis.
“Our volleyball has had ups and downs,” Salant said. “Lee has a strong volleyball program that can only help us. We need men’s soccer teams. Lee has a very solid program and we need women’s golf teams. So again, it’s a very nice fit there in terms of addressing some of the sports in which we are seeking to become stronger.”
Salant said no one can predict how well an NAIA team will compete in Division II, “but we have every reason to believe Lee will be successful.”
If the school’s application is successful, the Flames will join the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Christian Brothers University, Delta State University, University of North Alabama, University of New Orleans, Valdosta State University, University of West Alabama, University of West Florida and University of West Georgia.
Lee University offers 17 team sports for men and women athletes. The Flames have membership in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and play in the Southern States Athletic Conference.
Full coverage will be provided in Sunday’s edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner.