A new era begins on Sunday for the Golden Eagles, as Oral Roberts University officially becomes a member of the Southland Conference.

It was announced in October that ORU was going to depart the Summit League, with which it had been affiliated for 15 years, for the warmer climes of the Southland.

ORU president Mark Rutland stated in a release at that time that competing “right here in our own neighborhood” would be better for the student-athletes at the university.

“Our number one consideration in this and all decisions is the well being of our student-athletes,” Rutland said.  “This change in geography that the Southland Conference provides us will greatly benefit our athletes.”

In Summit League play, Oral Roberts has been traveling to schools in Nebraska, Missouri, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, Illinois and Michigan.

The amount of travel for the Golden Eagles will decrease sharply for conference games in the Southland.  ORU is the only school in Oklahoma, but the only other states involved are Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Southland Conference membership includes: Central Arkansas, Lamar, McNeese State, Northwestern State, Nicholls State, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin, Southeastern Louisiana, and Texas A&M Corpus Christi.  Houston Baptist is set to join in 2013.

The Golden Eagles may be saying goodbye to the Summit League, but they are definitely leaving on a high note.

Blake Freeland, ORU’s Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations, acknowledged the achievements of the athletic program in its final year in the Summit League.

“It’s been a good year for us,” Freeland said.  “We had six team champions – three regular season and three tournament champions.  We will continue to recognize those honors and we hope to get some Southland banners beside them, too.”

Golden Eagle athletes earned individual honors as ORU had 70 student-athletes on the 2011-12 Summit League Commissioner’s List of Academic Excellence.

And ORU will have the opportunity to continue to excel in athletics without waiting in a holding pattern due to their conference realignment.

“We’re going into the Southland Conference as full-fledged members,” Freeland said.  “We’ll be able to compete for championships right away and will be able to represent the Southland Conference in the NCAA tournaments.”

And it all takes effect on Sunday as the mid-point of the year marks a new beginning for ORU.