Life, which fields teams in men’s basketball, men’s and women’s wrestling, women’s cross country, women’s track and rugby teams, will officially become a member July 1. Women’s swimming will follow suit when it begins competition in October.
Rugby will remain an independent sport.
Since relaunching its athletic department in 2007 with men’s basketball, following the return of the university’s accreditation, Life had past memberships with the TranSouth Conference, which folded in 2013, and the Association of Independent Institutions.
“When we first started back on varsity status in 2007, we had only one team competing on the NAIA level,” university spokesman Craig Dekshenieks said. “Now that we have six NAIA sports, it made sense for us to join a conference — not only from a competitive standpoint, but also a traditional standpoint.
“These are (Mid-South) teams that we were scheduling already, and so it was really just a natural fit for us to get into that conference. They were looking at us as a potential member, and we were looking for a potential conference, so I think it was a natural marriage.”
John Barrett, Life’s athletic director and men’s basketball coach, is excited about the move.
“We believe conference affiliation invigorates sports traditions,” he said in a release. “Season to season, year to year and decade to decade, playing the same core teams gives each team and sports a consistent gauge with which to measure itself and work to improve.”
The Mid-South will have nine full members for the 2014-15 school year. Life will be the southernmost member of the conference that also includes colleges in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.
Life expects to continue expanding its athletic department with women’s basketball and volleyball for fall 2015.
“We’re really excited to do this,” Dekshenieks said. “Conference affiliation engenders a healthy rivalry among the schools and allows them to compete year after year from sport to sport. It’s just a consistent gage by which you can compare yourself.
“We’re excited to join the Mid-South Conference because they have great tradition. If you look at the national championships the conference has won in its 20-year existence, it’s pretty impressive. I think it was 17 team championships and 20 individual championships.”
Dekshenieks believes Life’s arrival in the Mid-South will be beneficial for the conference’s other members as well.
“There are four other schools in the conference that have wrestling, and you need six to actually declare it a conference championship and have it be an automatic qualifier for a national championship,” Dekshenieks said. “By us jumping in, it will make five, and we’re hoping some other school add wrestling.
“Women’s swimming will be the sixth team, so there will be a conference championship. Once we add men’s swimming next year, they’ll be six teams, and they can have a conference championship.”