Wednesday, April 2, 2014

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UTRGV to be home to NCAA Division I athletic program

Officials from The University of Texas System today announced plans regarding the future of UT Brownsville’s athletic program as the campus and UT Pan American begin transitioning to the new University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, opening in fall 2015.

The new university will be home to an NCAA Division I athletics program. As a first step to establishing UTRGV athletics, UTB’s athletics program, which currently competes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) as a member of the Red River Athletic Conference, will be discontinued at the end of the 2014-2015 academic year.

UTB student-athletes will be able to keep their scholarships, whether they play sports or not.

“It was very important to me that we honor our commitment to our student-athletes and that they have the opportunity to continue their education at UT Rio Grande Valley with the support they were promised,” said UTB President Juliet Garcia. “During this transition, our focus remains on building a better future by establishing this new university and I have no doubt we will also create a first-class athletics program that the entire Rio Grande Valley can support.”

UTB has committed to continue fully supporting their athletic teams – which include women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country and men’s and women’s golf –  through the remainder of this  season and next season, as well as honoring all 79 current student-athlete scholarships for students who choose to continue their education at UTRGV. The student-athletes will have the option of trying out for UTRGV teams and earning scholarships, but will retain the benefits of their UTB scholarships even if they don’t remain part of an athletic team. UTB officials also will assist any student-athlete interested in transferring to another university to further their athletic pursuits. Student-athletes who transfer because their athletic program was discontinued may compete immediately and will not be required to sit out a season.

As a result of the transition, six full-time athletics positions and seven part-time administrative positions will be eliminated. Those staff members will be provided with a full range of support services, including job search assistance, employee relations specialists and access to counseling services.

“Out of concern for our student-athletes, coaches and staff, we wanted to make this announcement as soon as possible to provide them with enough time to explore the various options available to them,” said UTB Athletic Director Todd Lowery. “We also respect the planning and scheduling implications this creates for the conference and wanted to make sure that the Red River Athletic Conference officials also had enough time to prepare.”

UT Pan American, a member of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), operates a wide-ranging NCAA Division I sports program, including intercollegiate athletics, club sports and intramurals. It currently sponsors 14 intercollegiate athletic teams and has added women’s soccer, which will begin competing in the 2014-2015 academic year. Men’s soccer begins the following academic year.

Because of UTPA’s existing participation in NCAA Division I athletics, the UTPA athletics program will be converted into the athletics program at UTRGV. 

An athletics committee has been formed at the direction of the University of Texas System and is charged with developing a plan that brings together UTB and UTPA to create a single NCAA Division I-AAA program while ensuring that the welfare of the student-athletes is fully maintained and not compromised in any way.  The committee will be making recommendations to the UT System regarding items such as the location of the men’s and women’s programs, athletics facilities and the athletics budget and will strive to provide ample opportunity for participation in athletics by students valley-wide.

“This is the beginning of a new era which will provide student-athletes with NCAA Division I sports programs that will build the fan base and garner support from across the Rio Grande Valley,” said Pedro Reyes, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs for the UT System.

The UT System Board of Regents approved the idea to merge the assets, talents and resources of both UTB and UTPA to create a brand new university that would be eligible to benefit from the state’s Permanent University Fund (PUF) in December 2012. Because they began as community colleges, constitutionally UTB and UTPA do not have access to the PUF.

The Texas Legislature approved the creation of the new university and Gov. Rick Perry signed the legislation in June 2013.

Since then, a team from the UT System, UTB and UTPA has been working to develop a plan to seamlessly meld the two institutions. The timeline for UTRGV calls for the submission of the consolidation plan to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in April 2015, with a decision from SACS by June 2015.  

About The University of Texas System

Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities, six health institutions and a fall 2012 enrollment of roughly 216,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public universities in Texas. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $13.9 billion (FY 2013) including $3.1 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With more than 87,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.

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