Since the athletics department first opened its doors in 1998, the number of teams fielded has grown from just three to 14, including a new coed esports team.
When UTD was accepted into the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III and American Southwest Conference in 1998, the basketball and soccer teams had already been playing for years as part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. The head coach for soccer at the time, Jack Peel, said recruiting players and getting the word out about athletics at UTD was difficult.
“There were players left from the previous teams (in the NAIA) before us, so we didn’t have to start from the bottom up,” Peel said. “The biggest issue was nobody even knew we had athletics.”
To qualify for full membership in the NCAA’s Division III, the university had to play through a four-year trial period to ensure there was enough interest and support for the teams. The trial period ended in 2002, when UTD began participating in DIII the fall semester of that year. Benefits included the ability to participate in local and national tournaments such as the ASC Tournament and the NCAA DIII national championships. That year also marked the addition of baseball and softball into the program. Additionally, the year brought the first ASC championship victory, with women’s soccer securing the title and moving on to the second round of the NCAA DIII national tournament. Men’s soccer and basketball followed suit with their first ASC championship victory in 2004. Director of Athletics Bill Petitt said success was a continuing trend with the athletics teams, as multiple teams entered the ASC championship every season.
“That’s the evolution of the department. We just continue to grow and do things and get a little better and it shows out on the field with the results,” Petitt said. “Every year we get a chance to do things. It’s a maturing of the department.”
UTD added volleyball in the fall of 2004 and hired Marci Allison to serve as the team’s head coach. Allison has been with the team since, leading them to the ASC tournament every year since the team’s establishment. Allison said one of the reasons for staying for so long at the school was watching the team, department and campus grow alongside each other.
“I get asked all the time why I stayed here, and it’s because the university supports athletics and really helps us to grow, which I think leads to more and more success,” Allison said. “It’s been fun watching not only our department grow but the university build along with us.”
Since 2004, the newest additions to the department include the Hall of Honors in 2007, which celebrates the best athletes in campus history. The following year saw more facilities constructed. In 2012, a dedicated facility for strength and conditioning was added. This year, esports joined the department as its first coed sport and is currently housed in a renovated gaming room in the Student Union.
Future projects for the athletics department include the relocation of the softball field and the construction of a new headquarters. The university is also considering a proposal to upgrade its membership into the NCAA from DIII to DII, a move that would require an expansion of programming and facilities for athletes.
For its 20th anniversary, the department is celebrating by producing a video series on the Comets Athletics homepage that features former coaches, directors and student athletes sharing their experiences about working in the department or playing for the teams. Individual teams will host banquets for alumni, current players and coaches to celebrate the occasion. The festivities will last through the end of the spring 2019 semester.