‘Transformative time’ continues: Edward Waters joins NCAA Division II

School will play in SIAC beginning this year

Edward Waters athletic director Paul Bryant speaks at a press conference on Monday to announce the Tigers had been extended membership in NCAA Division II. (Justin Barney, WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The momentum continues for Edward Waters University.

School president A. Zachary Faison Jr. announced on Monday that the Tigers have accepted membership into NCAA Division II and formally joined the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, kicking off the next era for the school.

The Tigers will begin the first of a three-year provisional process when school begins in August. Should EWU clear that window, it would gain full NCAA Division II membership in 2024. The Tigers will be eligible for the SIAC postseason and all associated championship events immediately.

For the Tigers, it is another step towards a larger footprint both academically and athletically. Weeks after changing from a college to a university and offering its first master’s degree program, the school is making the leap from the NAIA to the second tier of the NCAA. Faison said that athletics are often the “front door” for many students and this step is a significant one.

“A lot of work went into that. I’ve been blessed and we’ve been blessed, with just a great staff, great administrators, great faculty, great students who have all bought into this transformative vision of emerging … into Edward Waters,” Faison said. “So, indeed, you know the last 12 to 16 months have seen a lot of positive momentum and change, and this is just the beginning. There’s more on the horizon.”

EWU is the second area college in the past 15 years to make the move from NAIA to NCAA Division II. Flagler College in St. Augustine announced its move in 2006 and gained full NCAA Division II membership in 2009.

“Once you say ‘NCAA,’ that raises that profile that raises, again, the expectation. So, I think having our student athletes excited about saying, ‘I play for NCAA Division II,’ they see in their minds, that’s one step lower than Division I where a lot of them like to play,” said EWU athletic director Paul Bryant. “But we’re at that level, we’re at the Division II level, where you’re going to get the best of both worlds. You’re going to get the academics and you’re going to get the athleticism, so that’s why we chose Division II.”

It has been a long process for EWU to get here.

Schools must first receive an invitation from a conference as a precursor to any such move and that came from the SIAC back in 2019. That was the first step. EWU had to then complete an application for membership in the NCAA, which was a fee of $30,000 to just get the ball rolling. On July 9, Faison said that he received the call that the school had been extended membership in the association.

It also reunites the Tigers with a conference from its past. EWU last played in the SIAC between 1929 and 1935.

There, it will join a rich tradition of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and create natural rivalries with playoff potential on the line.

Albany State University, Allen University, Benedict College, Central State University, Clark Atlanta University, Fort Valley State University, Kentucky State University, Lane College, LeMoyne-Owen College, Miles College, Morehouse College, Savannah State University, Spring Hill College and Tuskegee University currently play in the SIAC.

“I think what you’re going to see is a higher level of competition. And I think that’s what you’re going to see, and I think that’s the biggest difference,” Bryant said. “We have offered similar scholarship amounts so we’re there. This was just the perfect move for Edward Waters University and this was something that we were going to do regardless.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.