GREENCASTLE -- With NCAA Division I conference realignment the talk of ESPN and sports radio this week, Greencastle's very own small university is getting in on the act.
The North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) announced Wednesday DePauw has accepted a bid to join the league, effective July 1, 2011. The decision came after the unanimous decision of the nine current NCAC institutions to extend an invitation to DePauw.
Football, which already has a schedule in place for the next two seasons, will not join the NCAC until 2012.
DePauw is leaving the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC), which it joined in 1998.
"We're moving on to a new chapter in DePauw athletics," DePauw Athletic Director Page Cotton said. "While I'm going to miss (the SCAC), I'm excited about the new challenges and opportunities that face us ahead."
For DePauw, the decision was not merely an athletic one. The decrease in travel will have student athletes on the road less, as well as making a positive impact both financially and environmentally.
"Many factors played a part in this decision. Chief among them was a desire for a less strenuous and more environmentally friendly travel regimen for our teams," said DePauw President Dr. Brian Casey.
While SCAC membership involves travel to places as far as Texas, Mississippi and Colorado, the NCAC stretches across Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. DePauw, along with Wabash, will be the westernmost member.
"We were in a position where we felt like we needed to make a decision, and the decision was for the geographic fit, and the NCAC is very similar to the SCAC in that they're committed to broad-based athletic programs and gender in sport equity, which are very important to us," Cotton said.
Travel should decrease significantly. Of DePauw's SCAC foes, Centre College in Danville, Ky., is the closest at 233 miles away. On the other hand, Trinity College, Southwestern University and Colorado College are all more than 1,000 miles from Greencastle.
The average one-way trip from DePauw to its SCAC opponents is more than 600 miles.
The average NCAC trip will be around 250 miles. Wabash College is closest at just 27, while Allegheny College, in Meadville, Pa., is 452 miles away.
"We're in the process of sorting (the travel) out," Cotton said. "I don't think it was totally a financial driven decision. The thought is that we'll have eliminated flights and thereby see some kind of savings. At this point, we don't really know what that might be.
"The obvious is that we're looking at playing like institutions that are in the same geographic region," he added.
As Cotton mentioned, the marriage of DePauw and the NCAC is one of like-minded institutions, a point emphasized by Dale Knobel, president of Denison University and of the NCAC.
"The North Coast Athletic Conference is home to many of the most outstanding undergraduate liberal arts colleges in the lower Great Lakes states. We are as proud that all members host chapters of Phi Beta Kappa as we are of the high level of athletic competition that makes the NCAC one of the leading conferences in NCAA Division III," Knobel said. "DePauw University already partners with other NCAC colleges in a variety of academic activities. It just seems natural that DePauw's student-athletes should now join their peers and friends of the NCAC on the playing field."
"The move to the NCAC aligns DePauw with strong institutions with a similar focus on academic excellence and the overall development of the student with fewer strains on both schedules and budgets," Casey said.
Although DePauw is departing the SCAC, the conference's executives wished the institution well as it moves forward.
"DePauw has been an exemplary member of the SCAC since joining our conference in 1998," said commissioner Dwayne Hanberry. "We trust this was not an easy decision for President Casey and the Board of Trustees, but respect that the decision was made in the best interest of the institution."
"The SCAC hates to lose DePauw, but we certainly respect their decision to switch conference affiliation in order for their student-athletes to compete in an area of the country that makes more sense geographically," said Southwestern University President Jake Schrum, who is chair of the SCAC Executive Council. "Speaking on behalf of all of the presidents of the SCAC, we wish them well in all future endeavors."
Since joining the SCAC, DePauw has found great success, winning 70 conference championships, a mark that trails only Trinity's 98 over the same period.
DePauw has captured the SCAC's President's Trophy for excellence in all sports each of the last five years.
"I think at the time we joined the conference, it was right for us," Cotton said. "We've had some really good rivalries develop and we're going to miss those, but we're going to quickly develop rivalries in the North Coast Conference."
Chief among those rivalries will certainly be Wabash -- a fire that needs no stoking. Besides the Monon Bell game in football, there is rivalry any time the two meet.
"Certainly, the Monon Bell game doesn't need any extra hype, but the thought that, potentially, it could be a conference game or a conference championship on the line would just add that much more to it," Cotton said. "In all the other sports, it ratchets up the rivalry situation in that it would be conference competition."
DePauw joins Allegheny College (Meadville, Pa.), Denison University (Granville, Ohio), Hiram College (Hiram, Ohio), Kenyon College (Gambier, Ohio), Oberlin College (Oberlin, Ohio), Ohio Wesleyan University (Delaware, Ohio), Wabash College (Crawfordsville), Wittenberg University (Springfield, Ohio) and the College of Wooster (Wooster, Ohio) as the 10th NCAC member.
Earlham College in Richmond left the NCAC at the end of the 2009-2010 academic year, dropping the number of member schools to nine.