Peach Belt accepts Montevallo

The Peach Belt Conference announced Thursday that it has accepted the University of Montevallo’s application for membership beginning August 2009.

The PBC board of directors approved both UM and Flagler College by a unanimous vote from all 11 member institutions’ presidents.

“We are pleased to welcome the University of Montevallo and Flagler College to the Peach Belt Conference,” said Dr. David Potter, president of North Georgia College & State University and serving as president of the PBC board of directors for 2008-09. “These two institutions bring a heritage of academic excellence and competitive athletics to our conference, making them a good fit with the Peach Belt philosophy of Division II athletics. We share a commitment to provide a broad educational experience for our student-athletes that challenges them to excel in their sports, in the classroom, and in their communities. These additions will strengthen the conference in pursuit of these goals.”

Montevallo announced in June that it would leave the Gulf South Conference, which is based in Hoover, to petition the Peach Belt for membership. UM has been a member of the GSC since it moved from the NAIA to NCAA Division II in 1996.

In June, UM president Philip C. Williams said he believed UM aligned better with PBC than the GSC.

“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 in a statement.

Travel was another concern raised in Williams’ statement. UM athletic director Jim Herlihy mentioned that same concern in his statement Thursday.

“We are very excited about the opportunity to join the Peach Belt Conference and hope to continue its history of success and tradition,” Herlihy said. “The Peach Belt embodies the balance between academic and athletics excellence which is the core of the Division II philosophy. We believe this change will improve competitive opportunities through scheduling as well as bring economic stability to our program.”

GSC commissioner Nate Salant, who has disagreed since June with UM’s decision to change conferences, said the conference has done its part to work with the scheduling concern.

“This had absolutely nothing to do with scheduling or travel cost, because we solved those issues,” Salant said. “If you look at a map and plot out the travel, with the possible addition of two schools in Tennessee and the crossover plan that we adopted (for basketball), issues of travel would not be a factor. If that were really Montevallo’s concern, they would have come to us and raised the issue (before our June meetings). We had no way of otherwise knowing that they were unhappy of that issue,” Salant said.

Salant said Thursday that there has been no discussion with Montevallo about the decision since June, saying it was clear that UM wanted to leave.

UM will become the first school from Alabama to join the Peach Belt, a conference currently comprised of seven teams in Georgia, three in South Carolina and one in North Carolina. The GSC currently includes four schools from Alabama, two in Georgia, one in Florida, one in Tennessee, one in Mississippi and six in Arkansas. Flagler will be the first Florida school, as the PBC expands to 13 schools.

“This is one of the most important things that has ever happened to the Peach Belt,” said PBC commissioner David Brunk. “It is a signature day for us to welcome in Montevallo and Flagler, two institutions that fit perfectly with our existing membership and give our conference the opportunity to reach alumni and fans in places we have never been before. It’s not just expansion in the number of schools we have, it’s bringing in two quality institutions that meet our academic criteria and provide real competition on the field.”

Through the fall, Montevallo teams are a combined 10-3-1 against teams that will compete in the Peach Belt next season. They are 23-20-1 against GSC teams.