Berry College, in Rome, Ga., will join other members of the new Southern Athletic Association in offering football as a varsity sport in 2013, and men’s and women’s track and field soon thereafter, president Steve Briggs announced Saturday.
Berry, along with previously announced new additions Hendrix and George Fox, would bring the total number of Division III schools sponsoring football to 244.
“We believe that the addition of football will be an enhancement to our campus life. As a residential college, like the other schools in our conference, Berry features a community of students who live and learn together. Football games will offer more opportunities for energetic engagement by students and will allow more social activities for alumni and friends,” Briggs said.
The additions of Hendrix and Berry in 2013 would give the SAA the seven football programs it needs to qualify for an automatic bid in football, which it could receive as early as 2014, once the new league finishes its two-year waiting period. The conference is being formed from the split-up of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference.
The Southeast has very few Division III schools and even fewer football programs. There are none in Florida, none in South Carolina, two in Mississippi and Berry will join LaGrange to bring the total in Georgia to two.
The school anticipates hiring a football coach during 2012 with a target to begin play in 2013. Planning will begin during the next few months to add facilities to support football and track and field.
The Berry College Board of Trustees’ unanimous support for adding the sports followed a multi-year evaluation process which included analyses by outside consultants, wide-ranging discussions on campus involving students, faculty, staff and alumni along with extensive research as to the benefits these sports will bring to the campus.
“Berry’s involvement with the new Southern Athletic Association promotes the active engagement of athletes in all college activities and is a model for the true scholar-athlete,” said Board of Trustees chair Karen Holley Horrell. “We are proud to offer our students additional opportunities through the addition of football and men’s and women’s track and field.”
Todd Brooks, Berry’s athletic director, said, “We are truly excited to be adding football at this time in our history. We have added a number of athletic opportunities for our student-athletes in the past couple of years and this is by far one of the most exciting.
“All of our coaches and student-athletes at Berry are competitive and expect to win, both on the field and in the classroom. We are proud of the tradition of success our athletics program has established, and we fully expect that our teams will continue that tradition as we move forward. We are looking forward to seeing our football and track and field teams help build on the foundation that's been established, and assisting Berry College in reaching its institutional goals."
The addition of football brings the total number of varsity sports sponsored by Berry to 21, including 20 that compete at the NCAA Division III level. Berry's equestrian team competes in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association.
Since 2003, when volleyball made its debut on the Berry campus, the college has been aggressive in adding opportunities for student-athletes to compete in intercollegiate athletics. Since then, men's and women's lacrosse, men's and women's swimming and diving and softball have been added. Equestrian has also been elevated to the varsity level from club status.