NAIA Member Highlight: Texas Wesleyan University (Fort Worth)

Conference: Sooner Athletic Conference
Returned to the NAIA from NCAA DII: 2003
Number of sports: 19

Interview: Kevin Millikan, currently associate athletics director and women’s golf coach, acting athletics director in 2000

What led Texas Wesleyan to leave NCAA DII?
In 1998, we were DII and fully funded with $1 million in scholarships for eight sports. The university hired a new president and he was charged with reducing the budget. Initially, our leadership thought we should move to NCAA DIII and we would save money since DIII doesn’t award scholarships.

Why was the NAIA a better fit than DIII?
We announced we were moving to DIII in spring 2001. As a result, the number of student-athletes fell from 165 to 60. A significant number of coaches left, as well, since there was no money for recruitment. After several months, the athletics department went to the president and said this isn’t going to work. We requested moving back to the NAIA so we could have money to recruit athletes, but still save money by funding at a lower level.

Once Texas Wesleyan decided to pursue NAIA membership, what was the feedback on campus?Fortunately, it was overwhelmingly positive. The faculty agreed that the NAIA was a better choice, as they were more familiar and comfortable with NAIA from when we were previously members. The coaches and student-athletes were happy with the decision. Since Texas Wesleyan had previously been a member of the NAIA, people knew what to expect and were pleased with the choice.

What campus benefits have you seen since returning to the NAIA?
Our administration sees athletics as a way to drive enrollment and once we returned to the NAIA, enrollment numbers grew quickly. By 2003-04, which was our first year back competing in the NAIA, we had rebounded from 60 to 185 student-athletes. By 2006, we were at 215. The administration tasked us with reaching 300 student-athletes by 2010, which we did by adding cross country, track & field, and junior varsity programming. We added football in 2016 and now have more than 500 student-athletes enrolled.

As an administrator and coach, why do you prefer the NAIA?
The NAIA is far more supportive of coaches and administrators. I appreciate the autonomy. The NAIA trusts its members to do the right thing. Also, the processes are so much easier to navigate versus the NCAA.

How do you find the level of competition in the NAIA?
There’s a perception that DII has more talented athletes, but that’s not the case. Texas Wesleyan still competes in a lot of DII events and the level of competition is equal to that in the NAIA.