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ENMU eyeing women's golf

President says rumors of NAIA move unfounded.


July 14, 2019

PORTALES — Anyone expecting Eastern New Mexico’s athletic teams to bolt the Lone Star Conference and return to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics should not hold their collective breaths.

ENMU president Jeff Elwell said Saturday afternoon that those are just rumors lacking validity. Elwell did say, however, that the university is in an exploratory phase of starting a women’s golf program that would begin competing in the fall of 2020.

“Because we need (athletic) opportunities for females,” Elwell said, “and that’s also a championship sport in the Lone Star. For travel, it’s relatively inexpensive.”

Elwell says the board of regents has already approved the exploration process for a women’s golf team.

“We’ll be exploring it in a number of ways this fall,” he said. “We have a number of very talented golfers who in high school were top golfers from various teams all around the state. So I think there would be a lot of interest from not only new students coming in 2020, but students who are already on our campus.”

As for the NAIA rumor, Elwell is not sure where it originated.

“There are apparently a lot of people who have a lot of free time and like to create rumors,” Elwell said. “Never in my wildest dreams, never have I said that I wanted to move back to the NAIA. ... That would be three steps backward to go to the NAIA.”

The NAIA, headquartered in Kansas City, had 251 Division I and II member institutions as of 2018-19, including two schools from British Columbia and one from the U.S. Virgin Islands. If Eastern ever did join, it would be only the second NAIA school from New Mexico, along with University of the Southwest.

But, the latter will continue to represent the Land of Enchantment alone because ENMU isn’t coming.

“It wouldn’t make any sense,” Elwell said, “because — no offense to the NAIA, but it’s much less prestigious, the competition isn’t nearly as tough and many NAIA schools are now D-2. That (rumor) may be somebody theorizing or supposing because we have talked about how poorly-funded our sports are. You may get (athletes) who come through and (go on to) play in the pros, but most are people who love their sport and it helps them, like it helped me, afford college.

“We were very dominant in the NAIA,” Elwell added. “If you look back to our national championship in basketball, that was NAIA. If you look back to our national championship in track and field, that was NAIA.”

Still, Elwell says there’s about as much credence to the rumor as there is to one that has him becoming Eastern’s new athletic director, replacing Greg Waggoner, who resigned late last month.

“And I was like, ‘I don’t know where that (rumor) came from,” said Elwell, who noted there are plenty of interested candidates vying for the AD position.

“As of (Friday) we have 31 applicants in the pool after just two weeks,” he said.

Though Elwell dismissed the NAIA rumor, he did attach a “for now” status to Eastern remaining in the LSC and acknowledged some very preliminary talks about whether or not the LSC is the best situation for every Greyhound team, due to extensive travel and funding inequities that make recruitment challenging.

“We have no desire to leave the Lone Star,” Elwell said, “but in some sports there have been questions and discussions about would we be better off in another conference. But that’s all it’s been.”

The school has been affiliated with the LSC since 1984. Earlier this month, eight new teams joined the conference to make it the biggest in NCAA Division II.

He says it’s a credit to some of ENMU’s coaching staffs that their teams have been competitive with LSC opponents such as West Texas A&M, Texas A&M-Commerce and Angelo State that have in some cases been able to outspend Eastern by seven figures.

“So I think we’ve done well,” Elwell said. “We have coaches that quite honestly have outcoached superior forces to do as well. We are not funded as well and yet we are able to make the postseason and make the regionals even though our funding is considerably smaller than theirs.

“It’s a tough situation. We’d have to figure out what the best situation (to move into) was for us, but it would be a long discussion and thorough before we would discuss not being in the Lone Star. It’s part of our identity.”


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