During a joint press conference Thursday in Jackson, 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 at those schools 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,” said Eric Ward, Mid-South Conference commissioner. “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 also said the Mid-South Conference members are looking forward to working with athletic directors Jeff Bain, Dale Kelley and Mike McCutchen to create extremely meaningful and memorable experiences for all the student-athletes.
In discussing the move, Butler, president of Bethel, 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 longtime 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.”
Shannon, Freed-Hardeman president, also was excited about the move to the Mid-South Conference.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with Bethel and Martin Methodist to make this announcement today. By joining Cumberland and other universities in this conference, we will play more 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 postseason tournaments will be more accessible to our fan base. We look forward to developing our student-athletes’ futures through the stability, strength and growth of the Mid-South Conference,” Shannon said.
LaBranche, Martin Methodist president, reinforced the other presidents’ sentiments.
“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,” said LaBranche.
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. The MSC has discussed plans to create northern and southern divisions with Freed-Hardeman, Bethel, Cumberland and Martin Methodist comprising the Southern Division.
Bethel is in McKenzie, Freed-Hardeman is in Henderson and Martin Methodist is in Pulaski.