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Randy Hollis: UVU may be next to change conference

Published: Saturday, Jan. 22 2011 7:00 p.m. MST

Anyone who thought that all the conference shuffling and realignment had been completed by Utah's collegiate contingent had better think again.

Sure, we've known for months that the University of Utah is headed for the Pac-12, and that BYU is going independent in football and joining the West Coast Conference in other sports.

But it looks like Utah Valley University may soon be going places, too — places like the Western Athletic Conference. And don't be surprised if Utah State still winds up leaving the WAC for the Mountain West Conference, otherwise known as the soon-to-be-former home of the Utes and Cougars.

Longtime UVU Director of Athletics Michael Jacobsen has confirmed that the Wolverines have made application to join the WAC as a non-football playing school which would compete in the WAC in all other sports except wrestling.

The WAC is also looking at Seattle University and Cal State-Bakersfield as potential non-football members, and several other schools ranging everywhere from the West Coast (Cal-Poly, Cal-Davis) to Big Sky Conference country (Montana, Portland State) to the Lonestar State (North Texas, Sam Houston State, Lamar) to the deep south (Louisiana-Lafayette) are reportedly on the league's radar as possible new football-playing members.

The WAC's expansion announcement may be coming as soon as April 1.

And you'd have to be a clueless April Fool's Day clown to think that UVU wouldn't jump at the chance to join Utah State, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State and San Jose State in a new-look WAC which also will be welcoming Texas-San Antonio, Texas State and Denver University in 2012.

Of course, Utah State may not be a WAC member much longer, at least not if the Mountain West Conference has anything to say about it. The Aggies are on the Mountain West's short list of candidates to invite for membership if the current 10-team MWC decides to expand to a 12-team league. That decision may be made Monday.

The Mountain West has already plucked Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii from the WAC, weakening the WAC tremendously and threatening to possibly even destroy it.

But the WAC has regrouped and is determined to persevere.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson, quoted last week in an article in the San Antonio Express-News, said "I don't think staying at eight (members) is one of our preferred options. Our preference is to get to 10, maybe even 12."

That would seemingly bode well for Utah Valley, which currently competes in the Great West Conference, even though UVU is the only school west of the Dakotas that is now a league member. The GWC is comprised of North Dakota, South Dakota, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Chicago State, Houston Baptist and Texas Pan-American.

Jacobsen, who's been at Utah Valley for 27 years, has seen the school take tremendous strides athletically and academically from the time when it was called Utah Trade Tech. Now, they're on the verge of taking another great step forward.

"What we've put together has been a great thing for our student-athletes," Jacobsen said. "And by joining the WAC, we'd have a chance for some postseason competition. It would give us an opportunity to compete at the highest level, the NCAA Tournament, in all sports and we'd be joining a conference that has established a great brand and tradition."

Jacobsen said Benson and the WAC have already drawn up several potential blueprints for the WAC's future, some which include Utah State and others that do not — just in case the Aggies follow those schools in Boise, Fresno, Reno and Honolulu and soon bolt for the Mountain West.

Jacobsen certainly sees the WAC as a nice fit for Utah Valley's athletic programs.

"Our facilities are very comparable to other WAC schools, and we've been able to compete with them in most sports across the board," he said. "Our baseball and basketball programs been very successful against them.

"It might take us a few years to recruit to that level, but we're pretty darned good now and by joining the WAC, I think that's just going to help us get even better.

"Utah State would be a great rivalry for us, but they've got to do what's best for them," Jacobsen said of the Aggies' possible departure from the WAC. "You don't get your hopes up too high in this business, because as we've seen, things can change dramatically. But we're really exited about the future of our program. We feel really good about where we're at right now."

Well, where they're at right now is the Great West Conference. But it sure looks like a move to the WAC definitely could be in the Wolverines' immediate future.

And, after that, who knows? As a WAC member, a football program might very well be in UVU's future someday as well.

e-mail: rhollis@desnews.com

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