By BUDDY HUGHES firstname.lastname@example.org
From a program that had two sports to an athletic department that supports eight sports and has won two NAIA national championships, it's safe to say that College of Coastal Georgia's jump to a four-year school has been a success.
That success goes beyond wins and losses. Fans have packed the stands of Howard Coffin Gym for volleyball and basketball. Softball draws crowd to the stadium. Golf and tennis have put Coastal front and center on the NAIA's national stage.
Athletic Director William Carlton attributes part of Coastal's success to the dedication the college has put into transitioning from a junior college to a four-year school.
"One of the things that has been a hallmark of everything that has taken place on campus — whether it is academics, student life or whatever it is — everything has been done with excellence," Carlton said.
That excellence is also what helped Coastal land in a new conference with a championship pedigree as the league switches from the Southern States Athletic Conference to The Sun Conference. Before Coastal gained entry into The Sun, the league did a thorough examination of the school's resources and potential. Carlton said each conference has membership standards when it comes to number of sports sponsored, number of team sports vs individual sports and the number of scholarships award.
"In fact, you have to meet a minimum award in order to be a member of The Sun Conference," Carlton said. "In that membership process, they come in and do a site visit, gather all of that information and evaluate to make sure we meet the standards, and also that we meet the standards for game management. Are we able to staff and host games properly? They evaluate us from A to Z on our ability to be a credible, quality member."
From the site visit, it was clear that conference representatives were impressed. It may even lead to Coastal hosting the league championship in a sport like tennis somewhere down the line.
"People from our new conference have said 'You guys have the best tennis facilities of anybody in our league and we would hope that you would be willing to host the conference championship at some point,'" Carlton said. "And we are certainly willing to do that. There have been a lot of improvements in locker rooms and athletic training rooms. Our campus and our college foundation have been very supportive."
Of course, The Sun sponsors sports that Coastal does not participate in like baseball, men's and women's soccer, men's and women's track and football. Coastal would consider adding more sports, but that depends a lot of how the college's enrollment grows.
"As our enrollment grows, which is still our driver for lots of things on campus, there are still sports that we would like to add," Carlton said. "We know that baseball — forgive the pun — would be a home run here. We'd love to be able at some point add soccer teams for men and women. Like many things in this life, it's driven by finances and for our athletic programs, it's driven by enrollment. As soon as the enrollment can support those things, we will be looking to add those sports and possibly others."
When Coastal was first making the jump from to a four-year school, they formed an athletic futures committee which helped in the process of adding athletic programs. If and when it becomes financially feasible, Carlton said the school would likely put together a committee to study the issue and make sure every angle is covered before deciding to add a sport.
"Say hypothetically it was baseball, we would pull together folks in the community that are interested in baseball and make sure we've considered everything not only from the campus, but the community prospective as well," Carlton said.
The decision to add a sport wouldn't just be up to Coastal. The college would also have to meet requirements set by the University System of Georgia.
"We have to put together a plan, a financial pro-forma and demonstrate to the university system that we can do this in a fiscally sound way, then get acknowledgement from the university system that the plan is solid and we can move forward, hire coaches and begin to recruit," Carlton said. "Of course, with baseball, soccer or any sport, facilities would be a concern for us. All of that would have to be taken account."
For the teams the Mariners already have, the programs will face tough competition in The Sun beginning this fall. The league has fewer spots available for conference tournament, which Carlton said helps make the regular season more competitive.
So far, Coastal teams have been up to the task. Carlton credits the coaches and student-athletes for raising the school's profile in a short amount of time.
"It is a credit to our coaches and our student athletes that we've been able to build up the credibility in a short amount of time for someone on the outside to look at us and say 'Yeah, we want them as a member,'" Carlton said. "Our students are good students. Athletically, they're gifted and have won championships. They represent themselves well as competitors. Our coaches have done a marvelous job with that."
Photo by The Brunswick News
College of Coastal Georgia's volleyball team celebrates a point in a recent match.