A Monday tweet from D1Baseball’s Kendall Rogers broached the subject of some potentially-forthcoming conference realignments.
SCOOP: Some potentially interesting baseball news could be on the horizon. @ASUNSports Presidents have voted to enter in to a 60-day negotiating period with hopes of adding Eastern Kentucky, Central Arkansas and Jacksonville State to the #ASUN.
— Kendall Rogers (@KendallRogers) November 16, 2020
“[ASun Conference] Presidents have voted to enter in to a 60-day negotiating period with hopes of adding Eastern Kentucky, Central Arkansas and Jacksonville State to the #ASUN. Stay tuned,” Rogers’ tweet read.
Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State are both active members of the Ohio Valley Conference, while Central Arkansas competes in the Southland Conference. The ASun currently boasts nine member teams ahead of the potential additions; Bellarmine reclassified from Division II earlier this year to join the league, and NJIT departed the ASun at the same time. NJIT – the New Jersey Institute of Technology – does not play softball.
Sources confirmed to JWOS that the schools are expected to realign as early as July 2021, and begin play in the ASun with the 2021-22 season. The moves would have implications on a variety of levels, including softball.
Jacksonville State and head coach Jana McGinnis are mainstays of postseason softball, with fourteen regular-season or conference tournament titles to their credit since joining the OVC in 2003. From 2016-18, the Gamecocks won three consecutive conference tournament championships and reached the NCAA tournament; in 2018, the Gamecocks played in the regional final against eventual national champions Florida State. The Gamecocks reached the Super Regional round in 2009, the first-ever OVC school to advance that far into the tournament. McGinnis is a 6-time OVC Coach of the Year, and has won the award three times in the last decade.
For Central Arkansas’ part, the move would pull the Sugar Bears away from their status as the northernmost school in the Southland Conference and attach the title of being the ASun’s easternmost member. UCA head coach David Kuhn is currently the winningest active coach in the Southland, and he led the Sugar Bears to the Southland tournament championship and an NCAA regional berth in 2015. The program also hosted a regional in the NISC postseason tournament in 2018.
EKU head coach Jane Worthington is one of the longest-tenured leaders in Division I, and owns a pair of NCAA tournament berths from 2002 and ’04. The Colonels have resurged in recent years, including winning the OVC regular-season title in 2018 and reaching the NISC postseason tournament in back-to-back years in 2018 and ’19. The Colonels were 22-2 when the 2020 season abruptly ended, and have seen four players win OVC Player of the Year honors during Worthington’s tenure.
The addition of the three teams would take the ASun’s membership to twelve teams, and the league could potentially split into two divisions for conference play in sports where all of their member teams compete, including softball.
Following the breaking news story, the conference published a press release, noting, in part, “On November 6, the ASUN Presidents’ Council confirmed its commitment to multi-school expansion, and approved specific action steps to put the ASUN at the forefront of mid-major conference realignment in the southeast.”