DAY 21 (Aug. 21): The NCCAA And What It Means For Azusa Pacific
After decades of competing in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Azusa Pacific has a two-year “waiting period” before becoming eligible to compete as a full member of the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Division II postseason. However, in the meantime the Cougars will compete in the National Christian College Athletics Association (NCCAA), an organization which Azusa Pacific was a founding member of in 1968 and which currently sponsors 23 championship events.
Many of those championships will see a hefty boost in competition with the association’s recent membership growth. Over the past few years the NCCAA has seen multiple NAIA powers join its ranks, as a number of schools are in the midst of their transition period to NCAA Div. II and are restricted from competing at the national level in the NAIA or NCAA (tired of the acronyms yet?). The NCCAA provides the opportunity for schools like Azusa Pacific to continue to compete for national titles while competing with similar Christian colleges and universities.
While the NCCAA has historically been the smallest and least known of the major national intercollegiate affiliations, it currently has a membership that’s certainly not lacking in athletic achievement and history, most notably with the addition of Azusa Pacific and its eight consecutive NAIA Directors’ Cup trophies.
In fact, four of the top eight schools in last year’s final NAIA Directors’ Cup standings are on the move to NCAA Division II and hold active NCCAA membership, including 2012 runner-up Shorter (Ga.). In fact, five of the top seven Directors’ Cup finishers in all three years prior to 2012 have been accepted into the NCAA Division II’s membership process. The current NCCAA membership includes four of the NAIA’s top-eight programs in terms of Directors’ Cup finish from each of the past four years, and last year one of its most recent additions, California Baptist University, won the Pacific West Conference’s Commissioner’s Cup along with the NCCAA’s Presidential Award for Excellence, making the Lancers the PacWest’s and NCCAA’s top overall athletics program in its inaugural year of transition.
The NCCAA also keeps many of Azusa Pacific’s national rivalries alive. Union (Tenn.) University and the Cougars met in back-to-back NAIA women’s basketball championship title games in 2010 and 2011, with Azusa Pacific taking home the national crown in the latter meeting. With both teams eligible for the NCCAA tournament, perhaps a national-title rubber match will be in order next March at the championships in Winona Lake, Ind.
In 2012, Azusa Pacific and Shorter battled for a national title and claimed the top two spots at the NAIA men’s outdoor track & field championships, and another rematch may come into play at the NCCAA’s outdoor national championship meet in May.
One of the NAIA’s most intense national rivalries has featured Azusa Pacific and Lee (Tenn.) University in women’s soccer. The programs met in the NAIA tournament semifinals in each of the past two years (2010 and 2011), and with Lee entering the NCAA Div. II membership process, that rivalry may also be revived at the national tournament level. Of course, that matchup could only take place if Azusa Pacific can survive a loaded NCCAA West Region that includes the likes of four former Golden State Athletic Conference rivals: Fresno Pacific, Point Loma, California Baptist, and The Master’s.
Indeed, the NCCAA is rapidly evolving into a “who’s who” of the NAIA’s elite programs over the past several years, lifting the level of competition for NCCAA championships to unprecedented heights and providing opportunities to continue developing historic national rivalries.