ACU joins the Frontier for football next year, let’s learn about the Firestorm
Arizona Christian University is a private Christian University in Glendale AZ, founded in 1960. According to the US Dept of Education, 2020-21 enrollment was listed at 883 undergrad students, other online sources show the current enrollment at right around 1,000 students.
Arizona Christian is currently a GSAC member (Golden State Athletic Conference) for everything but football. The GSAC is a strong conference that resides in California and Arizona. We in the Frontier battle the GSAC quite often in volleyball and basketball.
Women’s basketball is the one that jumps off the page for me, the Frontier is so incredibly good in women’s hoop that it always feels like we draw a GSAC school or 3 in the playoffs. Perennial powers like Westmont, The Masters, William Jessup, and Menlo (to name a few), show that the GSAC is loaded.
Football is a different story though, the GSAC is a non-football conference so Arizona Christian plays football in the Sooner Athletic Conference. The current footprint of the Sooner is huge. Even to those of us used to the Frontier trips, the Sooner road trips are crazy.
The current Sooner Athletic Conference for football is 10 schools. The conference includes schools in Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. For Arizona Christian the closest opponent is Ottawa University, a mere 15 miles away! The farthest? Lyon, Arkansas at 1520 miles, not much farther than Louisiana Christian at 1450 miles. Most of their road trips into Texas range from 700-1000 miles, so they are used to the travel when they join the Frontier Conference.
For comparison, when Southern Oregon heads to Rocky, that trip clocks in at just a bit over 1080 miles. All the Frontier schools are all right around 1100 miles away from Arizona Christian, give or take.
Talking to Frontier Commissioner Kent Paulson yesterday he talked about how adding Arizona Christian to the Frontier Conference wasn’t a decision made in haste. All factors were weighed, including the big one of travel. My understanding is that the Montana schools will never have to make the 2 big trips in the same year, those being Arizona, and Southern Oregon.
Adding the Firestorm next year in football will make the Frontier a 9-team conference. That means 8 conference games, playing every conference opponent only once. Which will only help our conference on the national level. Unfortunately, with 9 teams we will still only receive 1 automatic bid into the national playoffs, the conference champion. The conference would get 2 automatic bids if it were to add a 10th member.
On the 10th member front, nothing I have seen points to Ottawa University jumping on board with ACU and joining the Frontier, but Commissioner Paulson did say that there has been dialog with Simpson University in California, which is in the early stages of starting up a football program. He did say that the talks thus far have been preliminary and will continue over time.
Simpson University is an interesting touchpoint. If they do end up joining the Frontier (and those talks have a LONG way to go for that to happen) It would make us a 10-team conference, so 2 automatic playoff bids. The other part that the Commish enlightened me about, is currently there are 99 NAIA Football schools. Simpson would make that an even 100 football teams. The NAIA generally works toward a 20% postseason participation. Which could mean an expanded playoff format, from 16 teams to 20 teams, in the future.
Either way, let’s get ready to welcome Arizona Christian as a football member starting next season, and get yourself accustomed to talking about the Firestorm when arguing about the Frontier.