FLORENCE, Ala. — The University of North Alabama’s rebrand is an all-inclusive effort to present an updated and elevated athletics department. From new coaches across the sports’ profile to facility improvements, athletic director Josh Looney formally introduced it all at the school’s fall sports media day event in downtown Florence - and he began with a bold opening statement.
“The word ‘transition’ has been removed from the vocabulary of the University of North Alabama’s athletic department,” Looney said in his initial remarks.
The 2nd-year A.D. went on to recall the NCAA’s review process and, in the home stretch, it was more about university-wide standing than athletics.
“They want to see, ‘Are you a healthy university and healthy institution?’ Take athletics out of it. ‘Hey, you're competitive at the Division 2 level’ that doesn't even go into it,” Looney said. “‘Is the institution healthy and growing?’ [We’re] the fastest growing university in the state added doctoral programs. Plenty of things to brag about there. And in a lot of ways, athletics now is in a position where we're catching up to all the successes on the academic side over the last four years.”
One of the burdens of this process has been postseason ineligibility. Head coach Chris Willis often remarked that the last four years’ worth of games weren’t played “for anything.” But shedding that has lifted the spirits across campus, says senior offensive lineman Cam Watson.
“There’s a whole new energy - not just with the football program, but around the whole program in general,” said Watson. “In the training room, you see all the athletes, you can tell everybody is happy to finally be Division I.”
“We’ve been talking about it forever now we said Division I there … kind of had been an asterisk next to it, but now we’re Division I, FCS,” Watson said. “There’s no more excuses, we can do whatever we want to.”
The first season of Division I FCS football for the Lions kicks off September 1st when they face Indiana State on the road. They’re back in Florence the following week to face D-II University of Virginia Wise in their home opener on September 10.