MELBOURNE, Fla. - The Sunshine State Conference, the only NCAA conference located in the state of Florida, is growing. The SSC officially welcomes Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Palm Beach Atlantic University to full conference membership, in a move that takes the conference from nine to 11 member institutions for the 2017-18 academic year.
"This is a historic day for the conference," stated Dr. Ronald L. Vaughn, chair of the SSC Presidents Council and President at the University of Tampa. "Today marks the completion of an expansion process that started nearly four years ago. We are very pleased to be where we are today."
Embry-Riddle and Palm Beach Atlantic both went through a three-year provisional membership period with the SSC. Embry-Riddle also served a concurrent provisional membership with NCAA Division II due to a transition from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Each school's provisional agreements required each institution to meet certain requirements before becoming full non-conditional conference members.
"Palm Beach Atlantic University is honored to officially join the Sunshine State Conference – the premier academic and athletic conference in NCAA Division II," stated Palm Beach Atlantic President William M.B. Fleming, Jr. "Our student-athletes are the true beneficiaries of our SSC membership as they compete for championships at the highest level with students equally committed to academic excellence and community engagement. Our conference membership is a significant vote of confidence in the strategic improvements being made in Sailfish athletics."
Located in West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Atlantic has been no stranger to the SSC. The Sailfish have been a NCAA Division II South Region opponent for SSC member institutions over the past decade. Since gaining full NCAA Division II membership in 2007, PBA has participated as a Division II Independent institution. Before the transition to Division II, the Sailfish were also members of the NAIA Sun Conference.
The Sailfish have continued to excel in the South Region during the provisional membership period with its greatest athletic successes coming in volleyball and men's soccer. The Sailfish boast three NCAA elite eight appearances, including a national runner up finish (Volleyball 2015), over the last two seasons. Academically, 224 Sailfish have earned SSC Commissioner's Honor Roll honors over the past two years, while 13 earned CoSIDA Academic All-District and three students reached CoSIDA Academic All-American status.
"Sunshine State Conference membership has long been a desire of Palm Beach Atlantic University," commented Carolyn Stone, Palm Beach Atlantic Director of Athletics. "The opportunity for our student-athletes to compete at the highest level of NCAA Division II, coupled with the outstanding academic reputation of the conference's member institutions, is transformational for Sailfish Athletics. The membership process has made us a better Division II institution. I want to thank President Fleming, the Board of Trustees, donors, and staff who have worked tirelessly for this achievement. I am so excited for our student-athletes to fully compete as conference members and for the many ways this membership will positively impact our University."
Daytona Beach based Embry-Riddle began its athletics program in 1988-89 with baseball, men's basketball, and men's tennis and now sponsors 21 intercollegiate sports. For 16 consecutive seasons, the Eagles claimed the Sun Conference Commissioner's Cup and finished Top-25 in the NACDA Director's Cup. During their time in the NAIA, Embry-Riddle won two national titles, men's basketball (2000) and men's tennis (2013), and captured 28 individual national titles. Embry-Riddle was granted full NCAA Division II membership on July 14, 2017.
"Whether it is in the classroom or in athletic competition, our student-athletes are held to the highest standards," said Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University President Dr. P. Barry Butler. "This inclusion affirms our ongoing commitment as a university to student diversity, opportunity and success."
During its transition to the NCAA, Embry-Riddle posted 21 wins against ranked Division II opponents. Student-athletes at ERAU have earned a higher cumulative grade point average than non-athletes for the last 18 years. The department displays a 94% Academic Success Rate, holds a 3.2 cumulative grade point average, and boasts 138 SSC Commissioner's Honor Roll recipients.
"We are absolutely thrilled to be accepted into the Sunshine State Conference," stated John Phillips, Embry-Riddle Director of Athletics. "The SSC is the ideal fit for Embry-Riddle because of their commitment to academics, along with high-level competition on the playing field. Eleven schools, all private, all in the state of Florida and all committed to a top-notch student-athlete experience. It really couldn't be any better for us."
Founded in 1975, the Sunshine State Conference has risen from a single sports organization to the Division II "Conference of National Champions." Since its inception, the conference has shown steady growth in sports played, membership, and national prominence. In 42 years, member institutions have won a total of 102 NCAA national championships across 12 sports. During the 2016-17 academic year, SSC schools won three national titles and achieved a NCAA Division II best 86% Academic Success Rate.
The SSC consists of 11 member institutions, all within the state of Florida: Barry University (Miami Shores), Eckerd College (St. Petersburg), Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Daytona Beach), Florida Institute of Technology (Melbourne), Florida Southern College (Lakeland), Lynn University (Boca Raton), Nova Southeastern University (Ft. Lauderdale), Palm Beach Atlantic University (West Palm Beach), Rollins College (Winter Park), Saint Leo University (Saint Leo), and the University of Tampa.