Men's basketball, women's volleyball and men's and women's cross country teams will begin competing at the varsity intercollegiate level in the 2011-12 academic year
MERCED — The University of California, Merced, was approved for membership in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics this week during the NAIA's national convention in Kansas City, Mo.
With the approval, UC Merced's Golden Bobcats will begin play in the California Pacific Conference in Fall 2011 in four sports: men's basketball, women's volleyball and men's and women's cross country. Plans for future sports include women's basketball and either men's or women's soccer to begin in Fall 2012 and the other soccer team in Fall 2013.
"We couldn't be more pleased that the NAIA has accepted UC Merced as a member," said David Dunham, the campus' director of recreation and athletics. "We feel our teams are more than ready to compete at this level and continue building a foundation for the future of Golden Bobcat athletics."
Dunham said with the campus projected to eventually grow to a student enrollment of 25,000, UC Merced's goal remains to compete at the NCAA Division II level. For now, the Golden Bobcats will compete against Bethany University, California Maritime Academy, Holy Names University, Menlo College, Mills College, Pacific Union College, Simpson University and William Jessup University in the Cal Pac Conference.
The NAIA includes nearly 300 colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada. It holds national championships in 23 sports, and its stated mission is to promote the education and development of well-rounded students and productive citizens through intercollegiate athletics.
UC Merced will recruit high school athletes from the surrounding area, Dunham said, but most athletes on the new varsity teams will come from current club team players.
"We are all very excited to join the NAIA and be a part of a competitive league," said junior Brigitte Mayes, a member of the women's volleyball club team. "It is a big step for the women's volleyball program, and we're ready for the challenge."
In addition to the new varsity intercollegiate sports teams, UC Merced will continue to offer a large number of student-run club teams and intramural sports . In all, more than 1,500 students at UC Merced are competing in one sport or another.
All of those athletes would benefit from a proposed student fee that will be voted on in the Associated Students of UC Merced elections later this month. The fee, $75 per semester, would help cover the costs of moving into the NAIA but will also go toward financial aid and toward club and intramural sports. Athletics are not funded by the state and therefore are reliant on student fees and private donations.
"The move to the NAIA is the biggest leap our athletics program has taken to date and is a major development in the growth of our campus," Dunham said. "We are proud of all our athletes at UC Merced, from intramural to varsity, and we are looking forward to forging an even stronger bond with the surrounding community through sports."
UC Merced was one of four schools granted NAIA membership this year, joining Atlanta Christian College, Lawrence Technological University and Rochester College.
James Leonard