West Xtra: Geneva is ready to make its mark in the NCAA Division III ranks
For the first time in four seasons the Geneva College football team and head coach Geno DeMarco will have a conference title to play for in the fall. The Golden Tornadoes are picked to finish sixth in the Presidents' Athletic Conference's preseason poll of coaches, sports information directors and media members.
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No longer will Presidents' Athletic Conference executive director Joe Onderko have to explain what "provisional" means.
No longer will the conference standings have an asterisk in front of Geneva College.
The NCAA has officially approved Geneva as a full member in Division III. That means the PAC will be complete and the Golden Tornadoes will play for conference championships and have their players eligible for conference honors for the first time in four years.
With the OK from the NCAA offices in Indianapolis at the end of July, Geneva has completed a four-year process that saw its athletic programs shift from the NAIA Mid-American Conference to the PAC.
The reason for the long wait is that as an NAIA member, Geneva could give athletic scholarships. NCAA Division III schools do not grant athletic scholarships. The four-year gap was to make sure any student-athlete at Geneva who received an athletic scholarship had graduated, putting the Golden Tornadoes on equal footing with the other PAC members.
Geneva sent out a news release at the end of the spring semester saying its provisional status had ended. That wasn't the case.
"We were a little premature on that," said Van Zanic, Geneva's sports information director and softball coach.
"It's pretty much a formality," Onderko said of the NCAA granting Geneva membership. "The NCAA Division III Membership Committee had to review Geneva's request for membership and as long as everything was in order [it would get the approval]."
The Golden Tornadoes are not the first Western Pennsylvania college to go through the process. Saint Vincent College in Latrobe lost its provisional tag a year ago.
Geneva's addition gives the PAC a nice, tidy 10-school conference. There are nine teams in men's sports because Chatham College competes in women's sports only.
"It's great for the conference to have all of our teams eligible for championships," said Onderko, who was formerly the sports information director at Westminster College in New Wilmington. "It's just like the old West Penn [Conference] used to be."
That was back when most of Western Pennsylvania's small colleges were NAIA schools. The PAC consists of Bethany, Washington & Jefferson, Waynesburg, Thiel, Grove City, Westminster, Saint Vincent, Thomas More, Chatham and Geneva. The only school not located in this area is Thomas More, which is in Crestview Hills, Ky., just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.
While making the transition to Division III, Geneva was still eligible for playoffs in the National Christian College Athletic Association, but that isn't the same thing as going after a PAC title or being eligible to compete in an NCAA Division III tournament.
Geneva has been competitive in football in the PAC since joining. The Golden Tornadoes were 5-5 overall last fall, 4-4 against PAC teams.
In the PAC preseason football poll, Geneva was picked to finish sixth with Thomas More and W&J the top two. But Geneva is the only PAC team to defeat Thomas More in the past three seasons.
"It has been a long four years," Geneva football coach Geno DeMarco said of the transition period.
The men's basketball team has been in the same situation. It was 18-9 this past winter, 9-7 against PAC competition. But there are a couple sports in which Geneva might make an immediate impact.
"In football, we could be in the top two or three but in women's volleyball and in men's soccer we could go after the [PAC] title," Zanic said.
"They're always going to be good in football and in men's basketball, but I'd say volleyball, softball and [men's] soccer is where they could be really good," Onderko said.
Geneva's men's soccer team was 14-3-2 overall last year, including 6-1-1 against PAC teams. The women's volleyball team finished 26-5 this past season and was 16-2 vs. PAC competition. Zanic's softball team was 27-13 overall, 12-4 against the PAC.
"The college owes the athletes who just graduated a great deal because they played four years without the opportunity to win a conference title or be an all-conference player," Zanic said. "It's just nice [the provisional status] has finally ended."
First Published August 11, 2011 12:00 am