The Highland Cavaliers will rekindle old rivalries and cultivate some new ones as The University of Virginia’s College at Wise announced Friday that it is joining the South Atlantic Conference.


The SAC Presidents Council voted unanimously Friday to approve the College’s application for membership. The Highland Cavaliers will begin SAC competition with the other 11 conference teams in the 2019-2020 academic year.


“We are excited to join the South Atlantic Conference,” said UVa-Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry. “Our College has a natural rivalry with schools in the SAC, and we look forward to renewing competition with familiar SAC schools and to building new rivalries with the rest.”


UVa-Wise has competed in the Mountain East Conference since it moved to NCAA Division II in 2015. The MEC includes several colleges and universities in West Virginia and Ohio.


Henry expressed her thanks to the Mountain East Conference for the assistance UVa-Wise received when it was transitioning to NCAA Division II and said the College enjoyed a strong and productive relationship with the MEC.


UVa-Wise Athletics Director Kendall Rainey said joining the SAC is an exciting step for the UVa-Wise athletics.


“The geographic footprint of the SAC fits our regional profile, allowing for reduced travel and missed class time for our students while continuing to align us with institutions who have similar academic and athletic philosophies,” Rainey said.


In MEC competition, UVa-Wise makes its longest road trip to South Euclid, Ohio. In SAC competition, travel to Tusculum, Lincoln Memorial and Mars Hill would not require overnight stays and additional missed class time.


“I think that the move to the SAC is a positive step for a number of reasons,” said Tom Costa, faculty athletics representative. “From the academic point of view, the reduced travel times will mean less missed class time for student-athletes; there will most likely be fewer weather-related issues for our spring sports,”


UVa-Wise has consistently competed with Lincoln Memorial University, Tusculum, Mars Hill and Carson Newman for decades in baseball, basketball, softball and volleyball. The Highland Cavaliers played its first football game against Tusculum when the program started. The College also played its first official NCAA Division II against Tusculum in 2015.


The Highland Cavaliers will compete in 13 of the SAC’s 20 championship sports.


“On behalf of our Presidents, Athletic Directors, coaches, student-athletes and fans, I am thrilled to welcome UVa-Wise to the South Atlantic Conference,” said SAC Commissioner Patrick Britz.  “We believe that the addition of this fine institution will enhance the experience of all SAC student-athletes and elevate the visibility and long-term strength of the conference.”


UVa-Wise, located in Wise, Virginia, is a four-year public liberal arts college offering 31 majors, 36 minors, and 17 teaching licensures. They offer numerous degree programs, including Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, and Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Consistently ranked by U.S. News and World Report, UVa-Wise is a member of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC), is nationally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges and it has been nationally-ranked among the top public liberal art colleges in the U.S. It has also been selected for inclusion in the nationwide list of “Colleges of Distinction.”


UVa-Wise has a total undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2,021 students, with a student-faculty ratio of 13:1 and an average class size of 15.

The UVa-Wise athletic program produced two All-Americans, an All-Region performer, a CoSIDA Academic All-District selection and a Freshman of the Year in 2016-17. The Cavaliers won the 2016 Mountain East Conference men’s golf championship, the softball team hosted the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional in 2017 and the women’s basketball team won 21 games in 2016-17.


Logistics of UVa-Wise’s integration into the SAC, including the possibility of divisional play, will be vetted by the conference’s leadership groups in May.