The University of West Georgia recently announced that they will be moving up to the NCAA Division-I level as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference (ASUN), effective beginning in the 2024-25 school year, and the university made the move official with a signing ceremony in The Coliseum on Tuesday, Sept. 12 in front of a sizable crowd of students, community leaders and alumni.
“This is a great day,” ASUN Commissioner Jeff Bacon said just before the official signing. “We don’t get to celebrate that often in the world of athletics — we have a lot of struggles; we have a lot of challenges. We’re competing — sometimes you win, sometimes you lose — but today is an incredible win, not just for the University of West Georgia, but for the Atlantic Sun Conference and the NCAA.”
According to the conference’s website, Bacon began working as ASUN commissioner back on July 1, 2023. Before then, he served 19 years in various administrative roles with the Mid-American Conference (MAC), including oversight of Football and External Relations, management of the MAC Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament, coordination of NCAA Championship bids and events, strategic planning, revenue generation, and management of affiliate memberships, among other roles.
“I just started this job — I think I’m in month three — so I’m still getting used to some things here, but what really excites me about this conference is that we are composed of 12 institutions that are all going up,” Bacon said. “Everyone is achieving. Everyone is growing.”
Current members of the ASUN conference include Austin Peay (Clarksville, Tenn.), Bellarmine University (Louisville, Ky.), Central Arkansas (Conway, Ark.), Eastern Kentucky (Richmond, Ky.), Florida Gulf Coast (Fort Myers, Fla.), Jacksonville University, (Jacksonville Fla.), Kennesaw State (Kennesaw, Ga.), Lipscomb University (Nashville, Tenn.), University of North Alabama (Florence, Ala.), University of North Florida (Jacksonville, Fla.), Queens University (Charlotte, NC), and Stetson University (DeLand, Fla.).
“We occupy, as a conference, the entire southeast region of the United States, from Kentucky to North Carolina to Florida to Arkansas to right back home here in Georgia,” Bacon said. “That’s a powerful presence.”
Not only did this ceremony usher in a new upcoming era for West Georgia athletics in a conference that is trending upward, but Tuesday’s ceremony also provided a unique opportunity for students who are a part of UWG Productions, the university’s live video program.
The event was broadcast live on ESPN+, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network’s paid subscription streaming service, and the entire program was produced by UWG Productions students and staff.
UWG Athletic Director Jason Carmichael says this kind of national exposure is just the beginning of what the university may see in the future, both in sports media and social media in general. Carmichael used an anecdote from another school, Bellarmine, who made a similar move up to Division-I, to demonstrate this point.
“When Bellarmine on the national [basketball] tournament in Division-II — Scott [Wiegandt], their A.D., shared this data point with me — he said they got about 3.6 million impressions over the following week after they did that in the social media space,” Carmichael said. “Fast forward to when they won the ASUN tournament and upset Louisville that same year — when they did a similar look in on their social impressions, they had 3.6 billion.”
Concluded Carmichael, “Just the exponential difference in exposure and footprint is radical in this space.”
After Tuesday’s official signing ceremony, UWG will join NCAA Division-I and the ASUN conference beginning July 1, 2024.