This time last year, University of Central Arkansas football Coach Nathan Brown took center stage at the first ASUN Conference football media day, touting his team's improvements and his excitement for a new conference and challenge for the longtime Southland member.
On Friday, Brown was at it again, sitting beside junior running back Darius Hale and junior safety TaMuarion Wilson, talking about UCA's latest venture -- the United Athletic Conference.
The UAC isn't built of something entirely new. The conference is composed of five members of the Western Athletic Conference, the four remaining ASUN schools and in 2025, the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.
In the covid-shortened 2020 season, the ASUN-WAC Challenge allowed both conferences to fill out schedules for a fall season.
In April, the NCAA denied the UAC's waiver request to join the Football Conference Subdivision. So,while the UAC will operate as its own conference starting this fall, it is not officially recognized by NCAA.
"We are somewhat disappointed the NCAA hasn't recognized us as an official FCS conference," UAC Executive Director Oliver Luck said at Friday's media day in Arlington, Texas. "We will continue to work as the United Athletic Conference."
The UAC will put forward one automatic qualifier to the FCS playoffs, similar to the ASUN-WAC Challenge.
With realignment prevalent throughout the Division I level of college football, the member schools opted to create their own league after Jacksonville State and Kennesaw State left the ASUN, leaving the conference with three teams.
"We think our structure makes a lot of sense, particularly in this time of change," Luck said. "We all know what happens with realignment: It's sort of the top level -- Power 5 -- and how that trickles down to a lot of the FCS schools. We believe that we're on the right track. We'll continue to work with our friends at the NCAA to get formal acknowledgment."
When it was first reported by ESPN in December 2022 that the WAC and ASUN were combining to create a new conference, the stated goal was to eventually become the first new Football Bowl Subdivision conference since the Mountain West joined in 1999.
While the initial hope of that occurring in 2024 is unlikely, Luck said it is still the goal.
"It's fairly simple," Luck said, "FCS is where we are, and FBS is 100% our focus. And what we want to do is perform at the highest level regardless of what conference, what league, what division we're in."
UCA enters the new conference following a 5-6 season that saw it claim a share of the regular season ASUN championship with a 3-2 conference record. Returning players like Wilson, Hale, quarterback Will McElvain and defensive end David Walker have the Bears primed to compete for the UAC's first title.
"The first thing you think is excitement," Brown said of the move. "When you look at the caliber of football programs that are going to make up this conference, it's exciting. I mean, you're talking about past champions in other conferences, you're talking about a ton of history at this level of football and the regional map that it covers. [There are] a lot of media markets that we're able to get in, a lot of opportunities to show our brands off."