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MGSC coaches react to school's jump to NAIA

41NBC spoke with several MGSC coaches Monday about the school leaving the NJCAA for the NAIA starting this fall.
COCHRAN, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) - It's a big jump, but it's one Middle Georgia State College is ready to make:

Their athletic teams will soon leave the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). 

So what exactly does that mean for the school?

41NBC's Tucker Sargent was in Cochran Monday, where he caught up with several of the Knights' coaches as they get ready to make Middle Georgia State history.

"It's exciting, but it's different," Paul Knight, head baseball coach says.

That's been the theme here since last year, when a merger with Macon State made Middle Georgia College into a four-year institution, known as Middle Georgia State.

The athletics teams continued under junior college status, but that changed Monday with an invitation from the NAIA.

The biggest difference between the NJCAA and the NAIA is MGSC's athletics teams will no longer be made up of only freshmen and sophomores.

"We'll have juniors and seniors for the first time ever," Scott Moe, head men's basketball coach, says with a smile.  "That's exciting.  I'm about to sign my first junior probably in the history of Middle Georgia (State College)."

"I think that's the most exciting thing," Vinny Gill, head men's and women's soccer coach says.  "So many kids I've coached in seven years have said, 'Man coach, if only we could stay here, we would.'"

Recruiting will be easier from that standpoint, but the NAIA also has stricter standards.

Learn about the NAIA's Champions of Character program

"Now, what we have to do is we have to go out and really recruit students that are not just good basketball players, but we also have to make sure they are strong academically," Anderson Ligon, head women's basketball coach says.

Over the years, the school has seen plenty of success at the junior college level.  According to a news release from MGSC, the baseball squads won four national championships and Major League teams drafted at least 125 MGC players.  The softball team won one region and one conference title and went to the national championship one year.  Women's basketball has at least two conference, one region and one district championship.  Men's basketball won at least 10 conference and three region championships and had three national tournament appearances.  The soccer and tennis teams also have seen their share of success.

It may take a few years to see those kind of accomplishments at the next level.

"There's definitely going to be some challenges along the way," Knight says.  "We're accustomed to playing with high quality players, and we're going to strive to continue to have high quality players.  It's just going to take a few years to get them to be juniors and seniors, which will be what we're playing against."

Yes, there will be growing pains, but the coaches say this is a step in the right direction.

"As a JuCo coach, I've been out-recruited several times because kids had more attractive opportunities," Ken Phillips, head softball coach says.  "Hopefully now we can offer those opportunities to them."

There's no word yet on which conference the Knights will join, but they've expressed interest in the Southern States Athletic Conference.  Moe says that conference is appealing because it'd give the Knights a chance to compete against old rivals like Coastal Georgia and Brewton-Parker.  An official announcement on conference affiliation won't come until June.

The Knights begin play in the NAIA this fall.
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