The University of South Carolina Beaufort has been invited to join the NCAA Division II Peach Belt Conference, school officials announced Wednesday — and they could begin competition there as soon as 2022-23.
Until now, the Sand Sharks’ 11 teams have competed in the Sun Conference of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
The Peach Belt Conference’s board of directors voted unanimously to let USCB join as its 11th member school, but first the school must apply to the NCAA. That application will be submitted prior to February 2022, and accepted or denied by September 2022.
If accepted, the school will begin full conference play in 2022-23, and participate in all conference championships that don’t carry an NCAA automatic bid. The Sand Sharks will also begin a three-year transition that “will culminate in their elevation to full NCAA Division II status beginning in the fall of 2025,” according to a conference press release.
As a member of the Peach Belt Conference, USCB will compete for men’s championships in baseball, cross country, golf and track & field while the women will compete in cross country, golf, track & field, soccer and softball.
“Moving to a DII institution is really helping our recruiting,” said Bernard Gaither, head coach for the school’s track and field and cross country teams.
“I think it’s going to be a really positive thing, the exposure of sports and how we’re going to expand the athletic programs — there’s so many upsides to it, and I’m not seeing anything down.”
As part of the move to the NCAA, the school also plans to add men’s and women’s basketball teams. Athletic Director Quin Monahan said the school plans to hire coaches for both teams during the 2022-23 school year and begin competition in 2023-24.
When asked where he would house a basketball program, USCB Chancellor Al Panu said that the school has had conversations for the past three years with state and county officials about “joining forces” to build a facility that would serve as an event venue for the community and provide classroom and athletic space for USCB.
Panu said he did not have a concrete timeline or details on that facility plan, but that he anticipated “additional progress” after Wednesday’s announcement.
Dave Brunk, commissioner of the Peach Belt Conference, said he was looking forward to developing rivalries between USCB and fellow Peach Belt schools USC Aiken and the University of North Georgia, adding that the conference and school had discussed a partnership for five years.
“This day has been a long time coming,” Brunk said, “and we are very proud to be able to provide them a home in NCAA Division II.”