March 22, 2013
The 1980s and 1990s at Elon was a time of great transition as the college sought to gain public recognition. The student body profile, in addition to the alumni and faculty, was changing in that Elon became more engaged in academics, networking, and athletics. This in part was due to the “Plan of the 90’s” that worked to increase the quality of Elon and develop programs. In 1991, the South Atlantic Conference moved to NCAA Division II from the NAIA. However, the Division II was considered “No Man’s Land,” and on June 17, 1996, Elon officials decided it was time to go to Division I in the NCAA. Elon participated without conference affiliation for the first two years before joining the Big South Conference in 1999.
Most of the Elon sports teams struggled in Division I due to the increased competition, but in 1999, women’s soccer prevailed. Coached by Paul Webster, the women were the third seed in the championship and defeated Liberty University in overtime. The team won the Big South Tournament Championship, becoming the first program at Elon to go to a Division I NCAA postseason tournament. According to the Magazine of Elon Winter 2000 issue, “junior midfielder Erin Morse earned first-team All Big South Conference honors and was named to the league’s All Academic Team. Four Elon players were named to the All Conference second team, including junior sweeper Patricia Clark, sophomore midfielder MacKenzie Sisson, sophomore defender Erin Lautermilch and junior goalkeeper Sommer Cork.”
In 2002, Elon officially accepted an invitation to join the Southern Conference. The move went into effect July 1, 2003. Because Elon did not give a two-year notice to the Big South about its withdrawal, the school had to pay a $100,000 penalty. To join the Southern Conference, Elon had to pay the league an immediate $200,000 and $100,000 a year for each of the three following years. The financial burden from moving to the Southern Conference was generously paid by an anonymous alumnus. This showed how the majority of alumni were exceedingly supportive of the athletic changes. By being in NCAA Division I level in the Southern Conference, Elon was associated with its peers on a more competitive plane.
Since becoming affiliated with the Southern Conference, the student body has become more diverse, increased in academic performance, and there is a higher retention rate than from the early 1990s. This reflected the success of the vision Elon officials held for the growing campus. Women’s athletics continued to develop throughout these decades as more sports became available and the women were able to compete in the Division I Southern Conference.