Area Colleges: APU is movin’ on up


Azusa Pacific athletic director Gary Pine informs the school’s coaches that the Cougars’ application to begin the process of joining NCAA Division II has been accepted.

Azusa Pacific is going big time. The Cougars, the top athletic program in the NAIA the past seven years, received the go-ahead to begin a three-year process that will allow them to become an active member in NCAA Division II. The announcement was made Monday by new AD Gary Pine, who forecasts great things for the Cougars in the coming years: “I think doors are going to open up that have never opened up for us before when it comes to recruiting. When I was first came here (in the early 1980s) as a student, we recruited against Vanguard, Cal Baptist and Biola. I think our coaches would say today that we recruit against Pepperdine, Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount. I want us to recruit against USC and UCLA, Texas, Stanford.
“Is that crazy? Yeah, maybe. I know nine times out of 10, we won’t get that (type of student-athlete). But that one time out of 10, we will. And if that happens in every sport, we won’t talk about Bryan Clay (Olympic gold medal winner, APU alumnus) being a once in a generation student-athlete. We’ll have Bryan Clays walking around this campus. I think we can do this. We are so unique in our purpose and philosophy and our direction that we can recruit some very unique student-athletes here. The NCAA is opening that door.”
Below is the rest of story on the announcement

By Steve Ramirez
Staff Writer
AZUSA —
Azusa Pacific University, which has fielded the dominant athletics program in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for much of the past decade, is moving on.
APU was approved Monday to begin a three-year process to join National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II.
“This is a wonderful day for Azusa Pacific,” said APU athletic director Gary Pine, who became the school’s fourth AD on July 1. “I don’t know how history is going to look at this, but I know for the APU athletic department, this is a historic moment. I think it is for the university as well. We are now members of the NCAA.”
APU will stay in the NAIA and Golden State Athletic Conference in 2011-12 while it begins a three-year process to become an active member of NCAA Division II by 2014-15. The process begins Sept. 1.


The Cougars, along with fellow GSAC members Cal Baptist, Pt. Loma Nazarene and Fresno Pacific, will join the Pacific West Conference by 2013-14 in all sports except football, which will join the Great Northwest Athletic Conference next fall.
The move to Division II has been a nearly two-decade process for APU, which in 16 years has grown from a middle-of-the-pack GSAC school to a NAIA national power, winning 23 of the schools 36 national titles in that span and the past seven NAIA Director’s Cups, which goes to the top athletic program in the country.
Pine, who succeeded Bill Odell as AD, believes the Cougars can achieve even more and the move to NCAA Division II is the first step.
“The next three years are going to be a challenge. We have to learn NCAA rules. But I believe our faculty is going to see a new type of student-athlete,” Pine said. “I think doors are going to open up that have never opened up for us before when it comes to recruiting. When I was first came here (in the early 1980s) as a student, we recruited against Vanguard, Cal Baptist and Biola. I think our coaches would say today that we recruit against Pepperdine, Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount. I want us to recruit against USC and UCLA, Texas, Stanford.
“Is that crazy? Yeah, maybe. I know nine times out of 10, we won’t get that (type of student-athlete). But that one time out of 10, we will. And if that happens in every sport, we won’t talk about Bryan Clay being a once in a generation student-athlete. We’ll have Bryan Clays walking around this campus. I think we can do this. We are so unique in our purpose and philosophy and our direction that we can recruit some very unique student-athletes here. The NCAA is opening that door.”
APU will join the Pac-West, which will become a 14-member conference with schools from Southern California, Phoenix, San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego, Fresno and Honolulu.
The draw back will be the two-year waiting period where APU teams will not be eligible for NCAA postseason competition.
“It’s a great opportunity to increase our visibility in accomplishing our mission at Azusa Pacific,” men’s basketball coach Justin Leslie said. “We here to serve through athletics, to get the APU story out there. I think this is another opportunity to do that. It’s a huge opportunity. It’s only going to enhance our mission.”
For the football team, it will get compete for a conference title for the first time in the program’s history.
The GNAC will include schools APU has played in recent years, including Humboldt State, Western Oregon and Dixie State (in Utah).
“That’s the exciting part, to have an opportunity for a conference championship is phenomenal,” said APU football coach Victor Santa Cruz, whose Cougars advanced to the NAIA playoffs last season. “You always want to be able to compete for something, and to be able to have that opportunity and be in a great conference like the GNAC, we’re proud to part of (the GNAC).”
APU’s move will also not be the end of its rivalry with Biola, which is regarded as the top small-town college rivalry in the country.
“That rivalry is not going away,” Pine said. “The NCAA, with their schedule structure, doesn’t reward you — in fact, it almost punishes you — for playing NAIA schools. For us to play Biola, it’s going to hurt us. But I’ve told our coaches, we’re playing Biola. It’s such a unique and terrific rivalry. It’s a great moment for our students to come together in those settings. It would be silly to let it go away.”
But the move to the NCAA is a necessity for APU, which has grown too big for its NAIA roots.
“The analogy I’ve used is if I’m a high jumper and I’ve cleared six-feet, six inches, I have to ask myself how many times to I need to clear 6-6 before I raise the bar to 6-8,” Pine said. “Every competitor, whether they be in business, or athletics, once they accomplish something and accomplish it well, they want the bar raised. And to a person in our department and on our campus, they all say, ‘Yes, let’s do this.’ We want the challenge.”

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  • Don

    Nice to see coverage of a LOCAL college program here, especially with Gary Pine, one of the classiest guys around, and the APU move up. Too bad so much space is used by LOCAL reporters rehashing the UCLA, USC, Lakers, etc., (which is frankly better covered by the national press and the Times), and so little covering some amazingly successful LOCAL colleges. Rio Hondo baseball, Mt Sac softball, (400 + wins for Kelly Ford) and Mt Sac football, (back to back National Championships), Soccer and Women’s Track, (State Champs).

    Lots of local kids on these teams. Try dropping a few names of Amat or San Dimas grads in a Roadrunner baseball story or former South Hills or C O or Glendora football stars in a piece about Jastrab’s boys and count the hits.

    Just a thought.

  • Steve Ramirez

    Don, I have. We have some high-profile area college sports programs – Both APU men’s and basketball; Mt. SAC football, women’s and men’s basketball and softball and Citrus men’s basketball. Rio Hondo, with so many locals on its baseball team, was another good story. I think I have covered our local ACs as good as anyone can expect, with our limitations and also balancing with prep coverage and college football.
    I believe this is just the beginning for APU.

  • BHS

    Gary Pine is a true class act. The tribune would be very wise to try and pick up his kid Jared who already writes some fantastic sports pieces.

    This will undoubtedly create some major recruiting enhancements for APU, which is already one of the top NAIA programs around.