For former A-Sun Commissioner Bill Bibb, former FGCU President Bill Merwin and former FGCU Director of Athletics Carl McAloose, they too can sit back with a grin as their plan is coming together nicely.
It was just a few years ago in 2007 when that leadership recognized that a partnership between the two could prove successful. The plan for growth and success was a solid one. FGCU and the A-Sun would continue the development of natural rivalries around the southeast; FGCU would infuse a new energy of growth and support from the southwest Florida community; and the move strengthened the A-Sun’s commitment among its membership of Building Winners for Life in all arenas – academic, athletics and community leadership, while aligning FGCU with members who shared the same commitment.
“I knew we had an opportunity when former Commissioner Bill Bibb came back from a CCA meeting in Naples and the first item he shared with me was his stop at FGCU,” said A-Sun Commissioner Ted Gumbart. “He knew there was potential for a great partnership.
“FGCU had good facilities, a growing relationship with the community, and had experienced success in many sports. It was the conference piece that was missing at Division II.”
For FGCU the partnership with the A-Sun opened doors to compete at the highest level for academic accolades, such as membership to All-Region and All-America teams, to which Eagle student-athletes perennially are recognized. It made available assistance and honors such as the Division I-AAA Athletics Directors Association Scholar-Athlete Teams and Post-Graduate Scholarships, an honor FGCU’s Sarah Hansen claimed in 2012. Eagles were also eligible for other national awards such Senior CLASS among others, along with the highest levels of Academic All-Conference honors.
In the arenas of competition, the A-Sun’s partnership with FGCU allowed the Eagles to begin competing at the highest levels, an opportunity to which they have taken full advantage. Since joining the A-Sun in 2007, FGCU has been a regular participant in NCAA postseason competition, claiming more than 20 regular season or tournament championships in seven sports. Although their opportunity for another trip to the NCAA Tournament was cut short in the men's championship loss to Mercer, their successful regular season certainly sets them up for another postseason run.
Today women's basketball claimed their second A-Sun Championship title in three years, and the Eagles have played for the title each of the last three seasons. FGCU’s women’s basketball has been to postseason every year since joining the A-Sun, and has tallied three postseason wins during that stretch.
“When we committed to them and they committed to us, we wanted to start full conference competition immediately,” Gumbart continued. "The A-Sun was the first conference to do this, but we were determined to be fully supportive as teams worked through the four years of reclassification. We also wanted all of our membership to have the opportunity to compete and grow together. I think the past few years have proven that it has been a tremendously successful partnership. I'm glad the CCA meetings were in Naples!"
Most recently the A-Sun has taken strides to benefit FGCU – along with the rest of the conference membership – via opportunities for greater coverage as the conference’s relationship with ESPN, particularly in the area of campus production, continues to flourish. Since 2012 the A-Sun has seen more than a 300 percent growth in its original content that is provided to the ESPN family of networks, and now FGCU is now midway through its first year of the on-campus production as well.
In 2012 FGCU also had the opportunity to be recognized as one of the first teams in the NCAA to compete for a conference championship in sand volleyball, as the A-Sun’s leadership role in the sport encompassed conducting the first conference championship in Division I.
So through their teamwork, the A-Sun and FGCU are continuing the mission of providing opportunities for student-athletes to achieve in competition, in the classroom and in their communities. It looks like the plan has come together nicely.