The University of North Florida’s athletics program has seen tremendous growth since its inception in 1983. Beginning with men’s and women’s cross country and track and field, UNF has added 13 sports to the program and recently swooped its way to NCAA Division I-status.
The Division I-membership began in 2004 when the UNF Board of Trustees unanimously approved the move, and UNF submitted an official application in December of that year.
In the midst of the hunt for a Division I membership, UNF joined the Atlantic Sun Conference during the 2005-2006 sports season. In 2008, the UNF golf team captured the University’s first-ever A-Sun championship.
During this time, North Florida also initiated the SunTrust River City Rumble with crosstown rival Jacksonville University. The River City Rumble is a season-long series in which the two schools compete in 16 sports for possession of the SunTrust “Old Wooden Barrel.” At the end of the year, the school with the most wins receives the barrel, which is housed in the school’s athletic department until the conclusion of the final event the following year.
The Ospreys captured their first River City Rumble title during the 2006-07 season, edging the Dolphins 11-9 in the standings. UNF retained the barrel after the two teams tied in the 2007-08 season. North Florida recently regained the River City Rumble title and rights to the barrel with an impressive 13-7 mark in 2011-12.
Five years after the process began, UNF received official confirmation in July 2009 from the NCAA that the Division I active membership was complete. Lee Moon, who was hired as director of Athletics that year, was excited about the membership because the University would finally be able to compete for national championships.
Through its athletic history, the Ospreys have claimed four national team titles, as well as nine individual titles. In 1986, just three years after the athletics program was established, the women’s tennis team won the NAIA National Championship. Five years later in 1991, the men’s golf team brought about the school’s second national title by winning the NAIA National Championship. Two years later, the men’s golf team had another outstanding season and won its second NAIA National Championship. In 1994, UNF added a fourth national title by seizing the Division II Women’s Tennis National Championship. The programs have combined for a plethora of NCAA regional appearances, including an NCAA Division II Elite 8 appearance in women’s basketball, five College World Series appearances in baseball and countless conference championships.
Since the move to D1, the University of North Florida has continued to grow. In 2012, women’s golf and sand volleyball debuted at North Florida, with sand volleyball claiming the inaugural 2012 A-Sun Sand Volleyball Team Championship by posting a perfect 4-0 record in the two-day team competition. In April, men’s golf claimed the 2012 Atlantic Sun Conference Championship and went on to finish 12th at the 2012 NCAA Golf Championship. The championship was the second for men’s golf in the last five seasons.
“We’ve branded our identity as a Division I-program by playing up to the level of competition and having success in our programs,” Moon said.
This season, the women’s tennis team won the 2012 Atlantic Sun Women's Tennis Regular Season and Tournament Championships. The women’s tennis team also claimed the 2010 A-Sun Tournament Championship, while the men’s tennis team earned the 2011 A-Sun regular season title. The women’s cross country team claimed the 2010 A-Sun Conference Championship, while both the men’s and women’s basketball teams have advanced to their respective conference championship games. In addition to the on-field/court success for the Ospreys, UNF was able to host the 2012 NCAA East Preliminary Track and Field Championships at its state-of-the-art track at Hodges Stadium.
The University of North Florida’s Department of Athletics is young and continues to grow, but the foundation has been set. The Ospreys are looking to continue to achieve even greater successes at the Division I-level.
“I think we’re poised to be highly competitive in all of our sports this year,” added Moon. “It’s been an exciting time so far, and we’re definitely on target for our growth as a program heading into our fourth year of Division I-competition. It’s going to be a fun year for UNF Athletics across the board.”