UM to apply for Peach Belt Conference membership

MONTEVALLO – The University of Montevallo announced Friday it plans to apply for membership in the NCAA Division II Peach Belt Conference.

Montevallo has competed in the Birmingham-based Gulf South Conference since it moved from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) to NCAA Division II in 1995. UM will continue to compete in the GSC for the upcoming 2008-09 season, and would begin play in the Peach Belt in the fall of 2009 if its application for membership is accepted.

The decision, announced by UM President Philip C. Williams during this week’s GSC annual meetings in Pensacola, Fla., caught GSC Commissioner Nate Salant by surprise.

‘Naturally, we are disappointed,’ Salant said. ‘The previous president of the University of Montevallo, Bob McChesney, was so involved with the Gulf South Conference, and this came as a shock. Efforts were made to address the concerns Montevallo raised, but it seemed like the decision had already been made.’

In a press release issued by the university, Williams said three major issues prompted the school to make the change: scheduling, similarities among PBC schools in philosophy and missions and additional marketing opportunities.

‘Scheduling is a recurrent concern. Our athletic teams have had difficulty in finding a sufficient number of (in-region) games to be eligible for post-season championship opportunities,’ Williams said.

Currently, the GSC is comprised of four teams in Alabama, two in Georgia, one in Florida, one in Tennessee, one in Mississippi and six in Arkansas. The Peach Belt is comprised of seven teams in Georgia, three in South Carolina and one in North Carolina.

Athletic Director Jim Herlihy said the move will help increase UM’s championship opportunities and help the athletic department economically.

‘We believe that this change in conference will better serve our students in terms of competitive opportunities and scheduling, allow us to partner with schools at the forefront of new NCAA Division II initiatives and provide economic stability for our athletic program. Our department is very excited about the future of Montevallo athletics with our partners in the PBC,’ Herlihy said in the release.

Salant said the GSC disagrees with UM’s decision.

‘UM has been a very good member of this league, and if their leadership believes that the Peach Belt is a better place, that’s their decision,’ Salant said. ‘The Gulf South Conference is at the forefront of Division II. No one else has anything resembling the GSC-TV Live, and I am not aware of other conferences that play so many of their championships at high quality neutral sites like we do. I certainly understand the travel concerns, however, we think the travel is less in the GSC. I wish them well and hope they find what they are looking for.’

Williams believes the PBC aligns better with UM both athletically and in overall mission.

‘The GSC is primarily a football-playing conference. We don’t play football. The Peach Belt Conference is non-football, and members’ philosophy and missions are more like ours. The Peach Belt Conference places emphasis on game environment, sportsmanship and community service. Those are the kind of priorities that are aligned with our strategic vision,’ he said.

Salant said the GSC does not discriminate against non-football schools.

‘Some folks at Montevallo evidently feel that the GSC is a football league, but we have always treated the non-football playing schools equally,’ Salant said. ‘Montevallo has been extremely successful in the GSC. We don’t see where they’ve been competitively disadvantaged ever.’

UM currently fields 10 intercollegiate teams and is exploring adding sports in the near future, according to Herlihy.