By Brian Murphy
Utah Valley University and CSU Bakersfield have agreed to join the Western Athletic Conference in July 1, 2013, the league announced Tuesday. The additions bring the total number of members to six, including Idaho, New Mexico State, Seattle and Denver.
The conference is transitioning to a non-football league. It will not sponsor football in 2013 and is unlikely to sponsor football in 2014.
"This is the first step in what I would anticipate to be a multi-step process as time goes on," WAC Interim Commissioner Jeff Hurd said. "The WAC certainly has more work to do."
Hurd said the first step is to get to eight teams, but he would like to grow to 10 and eventually 12 members.
Idaho has been negotiating with the Big Sky Conference about potential membership.
"Relative to Idaho, we do not have assurances that Idaho will be part of the WAC long term," Hurd said. "I have to work under the assumption that Idaho is a WAC member and, until we are told differently, that's how we will proceed."
In 2013-14 and 2014-15, the WAC can play as a six-member league and maintain its automatic bid in NCAA tournaments, including the lucrative men's basketball tournament.
The WAC will not distribute year-end revenue to any of its departing members, which means there is additional money for continuing members. The WAC is losing Louisiana Tech, Utah State, San Jose State, Texas State, Texas-San Antonio and Texas-Arlington (non-football) after this season. The league lost Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii after the 2011-12 academic year.
Idaho and New Mexico State, as football-playing members, are in line to receive the majority of the revenue.
"We have a formula that has been adopted (to distribute the revenue)," Hurd said. "The bulk of the money would go to football-playing members."
Big Sky Commissioner Doug Fullerton told the Idaho Statesman in September that Idaho is likely to join his league for the 2014-15 season rather than next year because of financial considerations.
"We're steadily moving forward," Fullerton said. "I'm very confident that Idaho will be playing in the Big Sky sooner rather than later."
DENVER – The Western Athletic Conference today announced that invitations for membership have been issued to and accepted by California State University, Bakersfield and Utah Valley University to join the conference effective July 1, 2013.
The announcement was made by the chair of the WAC Board of Directors, Seattle University President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., and WAC Interim Commissioner Jeff Hurd.
“CSU Bakersfield and Utah Valley University accepting our invitation to join the WAC is great news as our conference looks to a very promising future,” said Sundborg. “These two fine institutions are making significant investments in their athletic programs, and we look forward to the many ways they will help the WAC build on its great tradition and national reputation."
“Both are quality institutions and bring high level competitive and academic qualities to the 2013-14 membership,” said Hurd. “We are excited to begin the process of rebuilding the WAC and will continue to work to reestablish the league as one of the top Division I conferences in the West.”
Hurd added that the current expansion helps strengthen the conference as it enters a new era next year. The WAC will continue to explore the possibility of bringing additional members to the league as it makes the transition from an FBS conference to a non-football playing Division I conference.
California State University, Bakersfield, currently a NCAA Division I Independent, was founded in 1965 and has an enrollment of 8,200. Prior to their reclassification to NCAA Division I, the Roadrunners were a model Division II athletics program, winning 30 National Championships and the prestigious Sears Director’s Cup. CSU Bakersfield is the only CSU institution to achieve such status. The tradition of athletics success has carried into Division I as evidenced by the recent participation in postseason play by many athletics programs including men’s soccer (NCAA 2011), men’s basketball (CIT 2012) and women’s basketball (WBI 2010-2011). Additionally, CSUB baseball, which will begin WAC play this academic year, won 33 games in 2011 and has had six players drafted in the MLB Draft in just four years of existence.
Academically, nearly half of CSU Bakersfield student-athletes maintain a 3.0 GPA. The institution continues to expand its academic offerings, recently beginning engineering and agriculture-business majors as well as a joint doctorate program.
With this membership, at least 13 of CSUB’s 18 teams will become members of the WAC; most notably, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s soccer and volleyball, all of which were the lone remaining teams playing NCAA Division I Independent schedules.
Situated in California’s heavily populated San Joaquin Valley, CSU Bakersfield has the distinction of being the only NCAA Division I program within a 110-mile radius of its campus. Accordingly, a top-75 media market with coverage from all four broadcast networks, over 20 radio stations and the presence of both English and Spanish newspapers serves the nearly 1,000,000 residents of Kern County, California.
Utah Valley University, currently a member of the Great West Conference, was founded in 1941 and is home to more than 33,000 students. The Wolverines sponsor 15 intercollegiate sports, 14 of which will compete in the WAC: baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s golf, women’s soccer, softball, men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field and women’s volleyball.
In 2009, UVU ended seven years of provisional status and was officially recognized as a full NCAA Division I member, becoming the first institution to leap into the D-I ranks directly from junior college status. In each of its three seasons in the Great West, the Wolverines have won the GWC Commissioner’s Cup. Over the past two years, Utah Valley has had six student-athletes receive All-America recognition, including three baseball players from the 2012 team that led the nation with a .797 winning percentage. Also in 2012, men’s basketball became the school’s first team to compete in a postseason game in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.