Summer 2024

Former D-II, NAIA powerhouse California Baptist University moves to Division I

California Baptist University has skyrocketed its way up the collegiate ranks, and its latest jump is its biggest yet.

As Mid-Major Madness noted in April, the 68-year-old school competed in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics starting in 1969. It then ascended to the NCAA’s Division II, in the Pacific West Conference, in 2010. And now, beginning this fall, California Baptist will join forces with intrastate counterparts like UC Berkley, UCLA, USC and Fresno State as part of the highest level in the land — Division I.

Founded in 1950 by the California Southern Baptist Convention with a 100-percent Christian faculty, the school has been lauded off the field as “Best Regional University,” by the 2017 U.S. News & World Report. It has also seen its attendance rise exponentially in just the last decade. But one of its top selling points, besides shepherding Christ-centered students and teaching that “each person has been created for a purpose,” is an increased athletics spotlight.

“We’ve gone from NAIA to D-II to D-I in nine years,” said Micah Parker, the Lancers’ director of athletics since 2009. “Our university has grown from 4,000 in 2009 to close to 11,000 this fall in that same time period.”

California Baptist is skyrocketing indeed.

As Parker tells it, the university has actually been building its platform since long before this fall’s move, which will have most of its 18 varsity sports in the Western Athletic Conference.

“Did you know who has been the most successful NCAA Christian university the last five years?” he said. “It’s been CBU. We finished No. 1 in 2018, No. 2 in 2016, No. 16 in 2015 and No. 26 in 2014 in the NCAA D-II Learfield Directors’ Cup, which ranks athletic programs on their NCAA championships in a current year.”

Before moving completely to Division II, California Baptist had racked up 21 NAIA national championships from 1999-2011 and another 28 conference titles as part of the GSAC.

“CBU’s Lancers athletic program is gaining recognition as one of the best in the nation,” its website notes, listing the school’s sports: Men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s golf, softball, baseball, women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s water polo, men’s and women’s cross country/distance track, cheerleading, dance and wrestling.

And above all, as Parker said, the athletics department remains tied to the university’s mission as a whole, vowing to “honor Christ through excellence” on the fields and courts.

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