UNC Pembroke is changing its conference affiliation, leaving the Peach Belt to become a member of Conference Carolinas.
The move was announced Thursday in conjuction with Francis Marion, which is joining UNCP in the move to NCAA Division II league. Both schools will officially begin competition as the 12th and 13th members of the Carolinas Conference in the 2021-22 academic year.
Although UNCP has been a member of the Peach Belt for the past 28 years, the move is something of a homecoming for the Robeson County school. The Braves were previously affiliated with Conference Carolinas from 1976-92.
“This is a historic day for Conference Carolinas,” commissioner Chris Colvin said in a statement. “Our goal each and every day is to work to make our league better. We have accomplished that and so much more with the addition of Francis Marion and UNC Pembroke. These two top-notch institutions align tremendously with our conference beliefs. We are thrilled to have them join to help us continue to lead the way in the classroom, in the community and at the highest levels of competition as we strive to be champions in body, mind and soul.”
By changing conferences together, UNCP and Francis Marion — which is located less than an hour away on Interstate 95 — will be able to continue one of the region’s longest-running rivalries.
“Preserving a natural rivalry that has spanned nearly half of a century is extremely important for both universities,” UNCP chanceloor Dr. Robin Cummings said. “The magnitude of the rivalry between the Braves and Patriots has intensified greatly since the first meeting between our athletic teams in December 1971, and that has been overshadowed only by the sportsmanship that has been shown by the student-athletes, coaches and fans from both sides.
“We are extremely proud and excited to now continue that rivalry as a part of Conference Carolinas. The league’s commitment to body, mind and soul aligns completely with the missions of our institutions, and we are excited to help strengthen those directives beginning in 2021-22.”
In addition to UNCP and Francis Marion, the other members of Conference Carolinas are Barton, Belmont Abbey, Chowan, Converse, Emmanuel, Erskine, King, Lees-McRae, Mount Olive, North Greenville and Southern Wesleyan.