JACKSONVILLE, Ala. — Jacksonville State will bring its conference affiliation closer to home, with the Gamecocks announcing Friday they will join the ASUN Conference beginning with the 2021-22 athletics season.
The Gamecocks will rejoin the ASUN – the league that was its first Division I conference home - after an 18-year stay in the Ohio Valley Conference that produced some of the most decorated years in JSU's storied history. The ASUN announced on Friday an expansion that includes JSU, Eastern Kentucky and Central Arkansas and brings the league's membership to 12 teams.
"This is an exciting day for Jacksonville State University, for our student-athletes, for our alumni and for our fans," Jacksonville State President Dr, Don Killingsworth said. "When the opportunity to discuss renewing our relationship with the ASUN Conference was presented to us, it was one we definitely were eager to explore, and we could not be more thrilled that it worked out the way it has and that Jacksonville State University will rejoin the conference that was so instrumental in our move to Division I over 25 years ago."
The ASUN also announced its plans to add FCS football to the league's list of sponsored sports for the first time in the conference's 43-year history. The addition of football gives the league something it didn't have when JSU left to join the OVC in 2003, allowing the Gamecocks to play football in the same conference as its other sports. It will make the ASUN the 15th NCAA Division I conference to sponsor FCS Football.
"What a great day for Jacksonville State University and Gamecock Athletics," JSU Athletics Director Greg Seitz said. "Last fall, the ASUN Conference reached out to us to gauge Jacksonville State's interest in returning to the league that was our first conference home when we moved to Division I in 1995. When learning of the ASUN's plan to start football and the vision of Commissioner Ted Gumbart and the ASUN President's Council to build the premiere football conference in the FCS from the ground up, that was an opportunity that we as a University and Athletics Department wanted to be a part of."
With the addition of Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State, the ASUN Conference expands its geographic footprint to seven states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia) and now features 12 of the top-80 media markets in the nation and seven of the top-50.
"When a conference embarks on a mission to strengthen itself through expansion, it has to present a case for why membership with one conference would be more beneficial to the institution than membership in its current conference," ASUN Commissioner Ted Gumbart said. "The ASUN spent two years examining and defining its advantages and then presenting interested candidates with the option to join. Every institution will select the best option for conference affiliation from the available options. Each institution owes it to the student body, the athletic department and the university community as a whole to do what is best for the university. The ASUN works extremely hard to build options. To know that these three institutions have evaluated their options, and knowing each had multiple choices for conference affiliation and that they chose the ASUN is a great achievement. The ASUN Presidents' Council set this process in place years ago when the Council members challenged the conference to be a great destination, and that would attract new member interest. The plan has worked and we are thankful for the visionary leadership of our Council to prioritize the student-athlete experience and the institutional value of being a member of the ASUN."
The move to the ASUN is one that will allow the Gamecocks a better geographic fit than in the Ohio Valley Conference, where JSU is over 209 miles south of the closest school. JSU's new conference home features three schools closer than the nearest in the OVC, including Kennesaw State, which is just 85 miles from JSU's campus. Also in the league is one of the Gamecocks' oldest rivals in North Alabama, located just 146 miles away in Florence.
"Giving Jacksonville State a regional presence in the heart of our alumni and fan base, along with the ASUN's plan to create a new football league were very important factors in us engaging in discussions with the league," President Killingsworth said. "We look forward to working with the current membership of the ASUN, as well as Eastern Kentucky and Central Arkansas, who are making this move with us today. We know we will all make each other better, and we cannot wait to see what the future holds for Jacksonville State in our new conference home."
Jacksonville State, whose previous membership in the ASUN stretched from 1995-2003, is coming off a dominant run in the OVC that saw the Gamecocks win 78 conference championship trophies. They also made over 50 trips to NCAA postseason play, honored hundreds of all-conference players and dozens of All-Americans.
Football has enjoyed a great deal of that success, winning eight titles – five in the past six seasons. The Gamecocks' 105-29 (.784) all-time record in OVC games is the highest of any program in league history that played more than one season. Their 142-61 (.700) overall record since 2003 is also the highest of any league member during its tenure in the conference.
"This move continues the commitment that JSU has made to its athletics department and our goal of being one of the premiere mid major and FCS programs in the country," Seitz said. "We consider our fans the best in the FCS and at the mid major level. The opportunity to give our fans, our alumni and our student-athletes a better geographic fit was a driving force behind our decision to make this move."
The Gamecocks moved to the OVC from the ASUN in 2003 because its football team was having to compete in the Southland Football League. The ASUN's decision to sponsor FCS Football opened the door for JSU to return to the league.
"Jacksonville State's return to its first Division I conference home has a special meaning," Gumbart said. "When the Gamecocks moved from Division II to Division I, the ASUN was the original conference partner. We were then known as the Trans America Athletic Conference (TAAC). Don Killingsworth was a student representative to the JSU Board as SGA President. Greg Seitz was the young sports information director. I was a TAAC assistant commissioner and attended the meetings at which JSU completed its transition to Division I. Later, JSU was part of conference discussions on starting football. While that move didn't happen in the 1990's, it is happening today. JSU has matured into a Division I power in football and in many other sports. Clearly, the premier athletic program in the OVC when measured by championship success, JSU stands in the center of the ASUN footprint. The fact that we can re-establish a conference bond today, and bring JSU back into the ASUN membership is an extremely satisfying step. We hold President Killingsworth and Athletics Director Greg Seitz in the highest regard and stand immensely proud to have built an ASUN that has attracted the Gamecocks back where they belong. Long live the ASUN-JSU partnership!"