Going into the fall sports season at Howard Payne University, Athletic Director Mike Jones is optimistic about the future.
“(Head football) Coach (Roger) Geise has done a good job recruiting this offseason,” Jones said. “This year will be the first year we see some of the kids he recruited. I expect 150 players at two-a-days.”
The American Southwest Conference has dropped to 12 colleges from a high of 16 four years ago. The reason why the majority left was because they moved up to Division II, according to Jones.
Mississippi College has applied for a Division II change as well, which would make it difficult for football scheduling, according to Jones.
“We currently have seven teams in our conference playing football, including ourselves. If we lose Mississippi to Division II, then this will be their last year in our conference,” Jones said “That will create a problem.”
Jones explained that the American Southwest Conference decided to drop the conference subdivisions because the conference champion gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs, a fact that will change if the ASC loses another football school.
“We have to have at least six conference games to get the automatic bid,” Jones said. “In the past couple of years, Mary Hardin-Baylor has made it to the championship game and our second-place team has received an at large bid to the playoffs.”
The ASC has been regarded as one of the nation’s top Division III conferences in recent years, thanks largely to the postseason success of Mary Hardin-Baylor and Hardin-Simmons. The ASC has placed two teams in the NCAA Division III playoffs seven times since 2001.
The ASC is waiting on the results of the membership meetings for Division II and III to see what the implications will be.
There is a two-year grace period for a conference when it drops below the automatic qualifier minimum of seven members, according to ASC commissioner Amy Carlton.
“The situation is in flux,” Carlton said. “The timing of Division II and Division III membership meetings is terrible, but we’ve just got to work through that.”
Scheduling for Division III athletics is challenging for football at Howard Payne, because so many of the other Texas schools are in the NAIA or other divisions.
“Scheduling the non-conference games is tricky in Texas, because it’s hard to find non-conference teams willing to play another game against the ASC,” Jones said. “With the conference getting smaller, other schools are reluctant to play the ASC schools.”
Jones emphasized he is optimistic about the future of the American Southwest Conference because, despite the downsizing in recent years, the ASC front office is always looking for more schools to add, especially those that already have football.
When asked about the improvements to the Howard Payne facilities during the offseason Jones said that the renovations to the football locker room and weight rooms are ongoing. The locker room will feature bigger lockers and flat screen televisions.
“It’s important for recruiting to always be upgrading our facilities so we can compete for the recruits,” Jones said.
When asked if Howard Payne had any plans to build its own stadium on campus, Jones said “I’d really like to be able to do that. We have one issue, and that is we are landlocked at Howard Payne. We just don’t have any more room to build one.”
ASC defending champion Mary Hardin-Baylor will go into the 2013 season with a new 10,000 seat on-campus facility, Crusader Stadium.
Jones said that HPU having its own stadium would be nice, but that he likes playing at Gordon Wood Stadium and believes the crowds will come back for Yellow Jacket football when they start to win again.
“People in Brownwood like a winner,” Jones said. “They are used to winners. Ten years ago when we were winning we had great crowds out there.” When asked the main attraction of coming to a smaller school for a potential athlete, Jones stressed the education.
“They get that degree and a chance to play sooner,” Jones said.
With 150 Yellow Jackets showing up for two-a-days in less than three weeks, Jones sees fierce competition ahead for the starting slots that are available on the team.
The quality of the football recruits has impressed Jones as the Howard Payne football program tries to match the success of their other sports teams.
“These kids that are coming in now, every one of them was the best player on their team in high school,” Jones said. “They may be coming here to get more playing time than if they went to a Division II program.”
The roster of American Southwest Conference members in 2013-14 includes Concordia, East Texas Baptist, Hardin-Simmons, Howard Payne, LeTourneau, Louisiana College, Mary Hardin-Baylor, Mississippi College, Ozarks, Sul Ross, UT-Dallas and UT-Tyler.