Sports

Newman athletics wants a more geographically friendly home

Newman hired R.J. Allen as men’s basketball coach in April. Allen served as an assistant at Newman for the last six seasons and the past two as associate head coach under Mark Potter, who retired after this past season.
Newman hired R.J. Allen as men’s basketball coach in April. Allen served as an assistant at Newman for the last six seasons and the past two as associate head coach under Mark Potter, who retired after this past season. The Wichita Eagle

The Heartland Conference has always been an odd grouping of NCAA Division II private and public schools spread from Kansas to Texas.

Now it appears Newman University has had enough. On Tuesday night, the school announced it is “exploring new conference affiliation” for 2019-2020 in a news release.

“Shifting membership in the Heartland Conference has put the Newman athletics program in a position to seek an NCAA Division II conference affiliation with member schools that more closely align with its institutional values and geographic location,” the release said. “Newman remains committed to the Heartland Conference through the 2018-19 academic year, with all schedules and commitments continuing through that time.”

The Heartland, founded in 1999, currently consists of 10 schools — five in Texas, three in Oklahoma and one each in Kansas and Arkansas. Newman joined in 2008 and since then six schools left the conference, according to the news release.

“We’ve been a stable and growing member of NCAA Division II and the Heartland Conference for 11 years,” director of athletics Vic Trilli said in the news release. “Throughout that time, we’ve positioned ourselves for improvement, and it is critical for us to seek a conference affiliation with schools that are a better fit for us when it comes to travel, rivalries, and the interest of our fan base.”

Newman has long coveted a spot in the MIAA, a 14-school conference with members in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Nebraska. That would place Newman with Kansas’ other NCAA Division II schools Washburn, Emporia State, Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State. Those MIAA members are the biggest draws on the basketball schedule for the Jets.

While Newman’s lack of a football team may be an obstacle, MIAA members Southwest Baptist and Lincoln, both Missouri schools, play basketball and other sports in the MIAA while playing football in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.

“The MIAA schools travel right through here to get to Oklahoma City,” Trilli said in 2016. “That’s something I think could change in time — I’d love to see it happen before I quit. Where the NCAA comes to its senses and says ‘This is what this conference needs to be.’ We’re all members of the same association. What’s the right thing to do here?”

Texas schools St. Edward’s and St. Mary’s are the Heartland’s only founding members remaining from the original seven schools, all private, that formed the conference.

Other current members are Dallas Baptist, Oklahoma Panhandle State, Texas A&M International, Arkansas-Fort Smith, Oklahoma Christian, Lubbock Christian and Rogers (Okla.) State.

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop

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