Alumni Strongly Endorse Mississippi College Push for NCAA Division II
September 28, 2012
New Orleans Saints Hall of Famer Fred McAfee is giving an enthusiastic thumbs up as his alma mater, Mississippi College, pursues a possible return to NCAA Division II athletics and a spot in the Gulf South Conference.
The MC Choctaws all-time leading rusher, McAfee is part of a list of notable alums hoping the NCAA in July 2013 will approve this week’s action by university leaders.
A former Philadelphia High standout, McAfee remembers playing when more than 10,000 fans jammed Robinson-Hale Stadium to see the Choctaws battle in-state rival Delta State in a key GSC matchup. “Mississippi College should be D2 at a minimum,” says McAfee, director of player personnel with the New Orleans Saints. “D2 is a good place to be.”
A fleet running back during his football playing days with the Choctaws from 1987 to 1990 and a stellar pole vaulter and sprinter on the Choctaws track team, McAfee says the university’s athletic facilities would rate among the best in the nation in NCAA Division II circles.
The 5,145-student Baptist university would also gain much greater media visibility in the region because CSS broadcasts Gulf South Conference games every week to millions of homes in the South, adds McAfee, who watches the televised GSC contests from his home in New Orleans.
Another prominent Mississippi College graduate supporting the NCAA Division II proposal is four-time U.S. Olympic track star Larry Myricks of Atlanta. Going to Division II, he said in a phone interview Friday, will open the door to “better competition and scholarship opportunities as well. This is a very good thing.”
Competing in NCAA Division II track meets “was perfect for me – when I was recruited I had Division I offers,” says Myricks, a 56-year-old Jackson native. “I chose a smaller school and that was good for me.”
Myricks serves as CEO of the Atlanta Corporate Challenge that promotes physical fitness among employees at companies in the Atlanta area with a series of sporting events – from track to softball and tennis. He’s organizing similar activities in 2013 in Atlanta, Jackson, Birmingham, and Chattanooga. A 1979 MC graduate, he plans to visit MC’s 2012 Homecoming Oct. 26-27 to promote next year’s corporate challenge in the Jackson area.
Press coverage of MC’s decision to seek NCAA Division II status reached media outlets all over the nation, from Mississippi to Texas and as far west as the “Sacramento Bee” newspaper in California.
It also caused a buzz on the Mississippi College campus in Clinton among students, faculty and staff and with alumni on social media like Facebook and Twitter.
“Something to look forward to would be the scholarships,” said MC senior Kendre Smith, 22, a shooting guard with the men’s basketball team.”It will raise the competition level,” added the business major from Winnsboro, Louisiana before finishing lunch at the campus cafeteria.
Smith joined MC basketball coach Don Lofton and spoke up in favor of a return to the Gulf South Conference during a recent visit to the Clinton campus by GSC leaders. The MC Choctaws were GSC members from 1992 until 1996 when the university moved to NCAA Division III. MC is presently a member of the Texas-based American Southwest Conference.
“I’m ready for it,” said junior Willie Williams of Sumner, Miss., a forward on the Choctaws basketball team. “D2 will give scholarships and more people will come.”
Gulf South Conference Commissioner Nate Salant applauded the move by Mississippi College trustees following a recommendation from President Lee Royce and its executive committee. Should the NCAA approve, it would signal the start of a three-year transition process for the Choctaws to rejoin the conference. “This is another step in the building of the Gulf South Conference,” he said.
It will provide a terrific boost to decades old rivalries in the GSC. ”The rivalry between Mississippi College, Delta State and West Alabama was legendary at one point,” Salant said. “Fans in all three communities have been licking their chops waiting for their return.”
The Choctaws are home to 15 NCAA sports teams. Going to the GSC would also greatly reduce travel time for players, coaches and support staff.
Seeing teams like Delta State come to Clinton again would be a plus from an economic development standpoint for the city, says Clay Mansell, president of the Clinton Chamber of Commerce and publisher of the “Clinton Courier” newspaper. “There would be a large influx of fans to see our team, eat at our restaurants, shop in town and stay at our hotels,” says the Mississippi College graduate. It’s a win-win situation for Clinton and MC, he believes.
Photo: Fred McAfee