For the headline programs, the Mountain West will bring a consistently higher level of competition to the Aggies. For Matt Wells and the football team, there will be no more cupcakes on the league schedule. They will now have tie-ins to six different bowl games, compared to a single tie-in last season. Men’s basketball coach Stew Morrill will no longer have to worry about his strength of schedule and at-large bids, as the Mountain West ranked as the most difficult conference in the nation last year and sent five teams to the NCAA Tournament.
While fans and athletes are enthusiastic about the transition, there is nobody more elated than Barnes. Elevating the Aggies to a new conference was one of Barnes' first priorities after taking the position just more than five years ago, and has included several painful near misses. In August 2010, BYU was on the brink of joining the WAC in non-football sports and swinging the balance of power, but the move famously blew up in the faces of the Aggies when Fresno State and Nevada bolted to the greener pastures of the Mountain West.
Barnes will celebrate the Aggies finally breaking through by spending some time with his son on a trout stream and enjoying a rare day off. If anyone has earned the privilege, it is Barnes, who worked tirelessly to make the move, and then once it became official hit overdrive in rallying the alumni. Barnes recognized early on the Aggies would be woefully behind in terms of athletic facilities and spending and would have no hope of fielding consistently competitive programs without getting on track in those key areas.
In the ensuing year and a half, the university has built a state-of-the-art strength and conditioning center and just broke ground on the Wayne Estes Center basketball and volleyball practice facility. Both new buildings came via funding from longtime loyal donors, but would likely not have been possible without the move to the Mountain West and Barnes’ tireless efforts.
The anticipation is widespread across the entire alumni base. Barnes reported that football season ticket sales were well ahead of the pace the Aggies set last year.
“We don’t have a big parade planned, but we are all very excited and looking forward to the move,” Barnes said. “We hope the fans are excited too and ready to ‘join the climb’ with us.”
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.
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