A long, sometimes-tenuous assignment for Southern University neared the finish line Thursday when the NCAA confirmed that its athletic department had achieved certification.

But it’s not a full certification. Not quite yet.

NCAA member schools must complete a self-study of their athletic departments once every 10 years to gain certification.

Though most schools sail through the process, SU has been “certified with conditions.”

Schools who are certified with conditions are operating “in compliance with operating principles,” according to an NCAA statement.

“However, issues identified during the course of the institution’s evaluation were considered serious enough by the Division I Committee on Athletics Certification to cause it to withhold full certification until those issues have been corrected.”

Interim athletic director Sandy Pugh said the university has to clear one final hurdle.

In essence, she said, Southern needs a third party to evaluate the department and gender-equity analysis report.

“We have to bring in a gender-equity analyst and have them tell us if we’re deficient and where we’re deficient. I’ve found three potential (analysts),” Pugh said.

The analysis will begin next month, Pugh said, with a final report to the NCAA in January.

“We’ll get with the analyst and she’ll hold our hand through our process,” Pugh said. “But I’m excited. The department is excited. ... This was a team effort. We’ve come a long way.”

Southern’s certification self-study was chaired by associate provost Jacqueline Howard-Matthews.

Last fall, the NCAA gave Southern a list of about 40 “issues and concerns” regarding its athletic department, telling the school that it had to address those issues before SU submitted its final report in April.

Then-athletic director Greg LaFleur said last fall there were “things we need to clean up here and there,” adding that the athletic department was struggling in part because it was understaffed.

At a meeting of the SU System Board of Supervisors in December, Howard-Matthews and others voiced their concern that LaFleur was not being forthcoming about all the problems.

Eventually, the NCAA’s list of issues and concerns was whittled to one - the gender-equity analysis report.

“What we found out through this thing was, Southern was doing a lot of great things,” Pugh said. “We were just not putting those great things to paper, where people can read about them. We weren’t telling anyone about it.”

Football coach Stump Mitchell said news of Thursday’s certification was “awesome.”

“Everything that has happened in that situation has made it, in my opinion, much better for us to recruit kids - because now we’re going to have a much more sound educational system,” Mitchell said.

“We’ve got more tutors now. We’re getting more outside people to volunteer and take part - I mean, successful people from Southern, who are taking an interest in it and coming back and giving some help. So everything that happened from that aspect actually made Southern better.”

Southern was among a list of 28 universities to earn certification Thursday, though it was the only school to be certified with conditions.

In April, the NCAA placed a nationwide moratorium on the certification program. NCAA President Mark Emmert said he asked to have it evaluated to reduce the burden on institutions and increase cost-effectiveness.

The certifications announced Thursday represent the last group of universities to earn the designation and included Tulane. No other institutions will be able to begin the process until Aug. 1, 2013.