During a joint press conference at the Jackson Chamber Boardroom in Jackson, Tennessee, the presidents of Bethel University, Freed-Hardeman University and Martin Methodist College announced their schools’ transfers to the Mid-South Conference of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Teams will first compete in their new conference in the 2020-21 academic year.
“It is not often that you have a chance to simultaneously welcome three new conference members who have the outstanding commitment to academic and athletic excellence that Bethel University, Freed-Hardeman University and Martin Methodist College do,” stated Eric Ward, Mid-South Conference Commissioner. He said, “On behalf of the Mid-South Conference presidents and athletic directors, I thank Presidents Walter Butler, David Shannon and Mark Labranche for sharing our vision and for their belief in our mission. Our conference leadership believes that the Mid-South is one of the NAIA’s premier conferences; the addition of these three outstanding institutions lends even more credence to that assertion.”
Ward added, “Our athletic directors are looking forward to working side-by-side with fellow ADs Jeff Bain, Dale Kelley and Mike McCutchen to create extremely meaningful and memorable experiences for all of our student-athletes. Mid-South Conference regular season competition in every sport will be rigorous, and our conference championship events will be amazing. As iron sharpens iron, our teams who earn the right to participate in the NAIA postseason will be well prepared for national championship caliber competition.”
In discussing the move, Dr. Walter Butler, president of Bethel University, said, “Rivalries are very important in sports. We are thrilled to be moving all of our NAIA sports to the Mid-South Conference, along with two long-time friends, Martin Methodist College and Freed-Hardeman University. As we all join Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, and others in the conference, these rivalries will be great for our athletes and fans. We have missed these rivalries and are so excited to compete again with our neighboring schools, as well as the entire Mid-South Conference.”
Freed-Hardeman President David Shannon added, “We are thrilled to be partnering with Bethel and Martin Methodist to make this announcement today. By joining Cumberland and the other universities, we will play more conference games in areas where we have large numbers of prospective students, alumni and friends. While we are grateful for our good experience in the American Midwest Conference, we are excited that these rivalries and post-season tournaments will be more accessible to our fan base. Ultimately we want to offer a tremendous intercollegiate athletic experience to our student athletes. We look forward to developing them through the stability and strength of the Mid-South Conference.”
Martin Methodist President Mark LaBranche reinforced the other presidents’ sentiments, as he said, “Martin Methodist College is excited to renew some traditional rivalries that we know will lead to additional fan support. The coordinated move of our three colleges will also benefit Martin Methodist College students by requiring less time on the road. The opportunity for junior varsity competition is another great advantage to our joining the Mid-South Conference.”
Bethel and Martin Methodist will join the MSC after six years with the Southern States Conference, and FHU will be moving on after six years in the American Midwest Conference. This move puts four former TranSouth Conference rivals (these three and Cumberland University who moved to MSC in 2012) back in the same conference. The MSC has discussed plans to create northern and southern divisions; FHU, Bethel, Cumberland and Martin Methodist would be in the Southern Division.
Cumberland University President Paul Stumb commented on sharing a conference with Bethel, FHU and Martin Methodist again. He said, “We are so excited to welcome these three in-state, local schools into the Mid-South Conference. This will foster healthy competition between natural rivals because of their close geographic proximity.”
The Mid-South Conference was formed in 1995 to serve as the competitive base for the institutions’ athletic programs. The conference's broad-based athletic competition for men and women offers championships in 29 sports.
The Mid-South Conference has enjoyed a prosperous growth since its inception with eight charter members in 1995. Nine full members and 25 affiliate members now call the Mid-South Conference home. The full members include Campbellsville University, Cumberland University, University of the Cumberlands, Georgetown College, Life University, Lindsey Wilson College, University of Pikeville, Shawnee State University and Thomas More University.
On the field, the Mid-South Conference’s rich championship tradition includes 21 NAIA National Championships. Off the field, the MSC celebrates its student-athletes’ accomplishments in the classroom and within their community with its Champions of Character initiative.
The Mid-South Conference office is located in Bowling Green, Kentucky. More information about the MSC is available at mid-southconference.org, and additional details about Bethel, FHU and Martin Methodist may be found at bethelu.edu, fhu.edu and martinmethodist.edu.
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