With the recent shifts in national and conference affiliations at some Oklahoma universities, getting used to new rivalries is just one of the effects of the transition from the old to the new.  Among those effects for Northwestern, Oklahoma Christian and Rogers State in the move from NAIA to NCAA Division II are the diminished postseason opportunities their athletic programs will face.  Southern Nazarene is now in its second year in the three-year process and is still not eligible to claim a conference crown in 2012-2013.

So what motivation is there pushing the athletes toward a final goal at the end of the season.

This is where an organization like the National Christian College Athletic Association can step in for some of these schools.  The NCCAA is a Christian-based organization that functions uniquely as a national and international agency for the promotion of outreach and ministry, and for the maintenance, enhancement, and promotion of intercollegiate athletic competition in a Christian perspective.  And so those schools whose core is based upon Christian principles as well might find a harbor here.

The NCCAA holds postseason tournaments and invitationals in 23 sports.  This would allow schools an option to continue competing after the regular season is done.  And for schools like those in the transition process – no longer in NAIA, but not fully in D-II yet – this is a big selling point.

Oklahoma Christian has joined the NCCAA for the 2012-2013 season and Southern Nazarene is rejoining the organization for the first time since 1984.

They join four other Oklahoma Schools already in the organization: Mid-America Christian, Oklahoma Wesleyan, St. Gregory’s and Southwestern Christian University.

NCCAA executive chairman Dan Wood says that he is excited about the addition of the two schools and that he believes the organization has much to offer.

“It’s very similar to the NCAA and the NAIA,” Wood said.  “We serve 110 member schools throughout the country and there are eligibility requirements and compliance as well.  We also award All-Americans and other things like that which you would expect from a national athletic organization.

“It’s just smaller in population and staffing.”

But there is more to the NCCAA that just it’s business plan.

“We also have a mission plan,” Wood said.  “We also utilize all those championships, national and regional, along with all of our gatherings and coaches meetings and all else to serve the great commission of Christ.

“When we get our tournaments together there will be great competition and on a higher level than what most people might think.  But we will also put together over 1,500-1,800 hours of community service, or Christian service as we call it, through different partnerships locally.”

The NCCAA is in the second year of a four-year character initiative to help give the coaches and student-athletes something to focus on each season called the Game Plan For Life (GP4L).  It centers on the acronym L.I.F.E. – Love, Integrity, Faith and Excellence.  This year’s theme is Integrity.  And there are devotional materials originated at the national level to assist the schools and each in turn passes along this theme.

“We’re calling on our ourselves, our schools, our coaches and our student-athletes to conduct themselves in such a way that people would describe them as living like that,” Wood said.

“We’re not going to be perfect at it; we’re going to err.  But in failing is incredible opportunity to show integrity.

“Integrity is not about perfection.  It’s about dealing with our imperfections properly.  And we ask that they take the coaches take this theme into their meetings.”

Oklahoma and the central region of the U.S. is a good area for the NCCAA.  There are many schools there, and through the Midwest and on both coasts.  And there is not a specific denomination or line of protestant or catholic teaching that dominates.

“It’s a diverse group of schools,” Wood said.  “We get asked regularly if there is a denominational tie to the NCCAA and our answer is, ‘No.’”

And Wood humorously explained the eclectic group he oversees.

“Growing up in a parsonage, my dad taught me that if you’re going to offend in the church, get them all. So we kind of have them all here and I think that’s something that is unique about the NCCAA.  We can get these 110 different schools together of so many flavors.  Athletics allows us to do that.”

And it’s not just a fallback for schools that can’t compete on a level with others whose focus in not Christian-based

“The level of play here is good,” Wood said.  “That’s a misconception sometimes that these smaller schools don’t offer enough.  And most parents and student athletes would do well to look at these institutions for their children to attend.”

With many schools in some geographic regions and fewer in other regions there is an imbalance.  The additions of OC and SNU, along with Lubbock Christian and McMurry (in Abliene, Texas) have really enlarged the Central region’s Division I. And the NCCAA will likely make adjustments to compensate.

“There will be some changes there because that Central region includes 14 schools.  We usually don’t want regions to be much larger than eight or nine, so there may some development of a new region out there.”

“We review our region boundaries every year, but we don’t change them every year because we rivalries are important.”

But Wood doesn’t want to react too quickly for a number of reasons, but one stands out.  Will Oklahoma Christian and Southern Nazarene remain with the NCCAA when the transitional process is through and these schools no longer “need” the NCCAA for its postseason opportunities?

“No one is naïve to the fact that we are the postseason model for these schools for the next two years,” Wood said.  “One of our concerns is whether we change for two or three years with the potential of changing back.  Or will we be able to retain them long-term as a duel member in which they might be NCAA D-II and still be NCCAA.

“And that’s what we have to look at when we’re looking at making boundary changes.”

But there is some historical perspective for the organization to have some kind of idea about the future.

“Retention is the key for us,” Wood said.  “Our by-laws require a school to join for only one year at a time and it’s been that way since we started in 1968.  And this has been a concern for some of our schools with these schools that come here during the transition from NAIA to NCAA as to whether they’ll stick around.

“But we do have one stat to base it on.  We’ve had 12 of this type of membership movement of schools moving from NAIA to NCAA D-II and we’ve retained 11 out of 12 over the last 12 years.”

And the NCCAA is providing avenues for universities for which these schools are already looking.

“When we start talking about our mission, not just the business or athletic side, but the mission, we get good response from the administration of the schools,” Wood  “That is what makes the difference.

“And we know that athletics is a passionate thing and a place where people can make errors.  But we are intentionally about being about the cross of Christ.”

So the athletic landscape of Oklahoma continues to change as the 2012-13 season gets underway.  And the NCCAA is a term that fans around the state may get to know well.

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