The Iowa Conference is expanding beyond the borders of the state. Nebraska Wesleyan will become the ninth member of the 93-year-old league. Nebraska Wesleyan has been a part of the Great Plains Athletic Conference since it was founded in 1969 as the Nebraska Intercollegiate Athletic Conference but has maintained a dual membership in the NAIA as well as NCAA Division III.
Iowa Conference Commissioner Chuck Yrigoyen says the league began to seriously consider expansion after Cornell College left in 2012 to join the Midwest Conference. “This was a time when we all felt most comfortable with a serious discussion about adding a school,” Yrigoyen says.
Yrigoyen says the league will work to alleviate the additional travel that will come with the addition of Nebraska Wesleyan. He says they will work on the scheduling and financial aspects of adding them to the conference. Yrigoyen says the addition of Nebraska Wesleyan is part of an overall strategic plan for the conference that could include a name change. “Clearly the name of the conference will be on the horizon. Sometimes these strategic plans come with a branding or rebranding element, and we will probably discuss that as well,” Yrigoyen says.
The loss of Nebraska Wesleyan leaves the GPAC with ten members who compete in men’s and women’s sports as well as the College of Saint Mary, which offers eight womens sports.
GPAC Commissioner Corey Westra says they are still in great shape, though he says it is a loss. He says Nebraska Wesleyan’s dual membership in the NAIA and NCAA Division III will allow them to make an immediate transition.
Westra admits the move by Nebraska Wesleyan came as a surprise. “Although I will say over the years as things have changed in conference affiliation around the country I think we had a sense if the Iowa Conference ever wanted to change their charter to go outside the Iowa borders, Nebraska Wesleyan was certainly going to be a target,” Westra says.