OREM – Utah Valley University today announced it has accepted an invitation to join the Western Athletic Conference. The Wolverines' membership in the new-look WAC will take effect July 1, 2013, and UVU will begin athletic competition in the conference next fall at the start of the 2013-14 season.
"Today's announcement is one more milestone for a UVU athletics program that continues to take giant steps forward," UVU President Matthew S. Holland said. "UVU and our athletics program are being propelled by tremendous momentum, and I have no doubt that the energy connected to UVU Athletics will add an exciting new dynamic to the Western Athletic Conference. Our athletic profile matches up exceptionally well with the WAC, and we absolutely share the conference's emphasis on and commitment to academic excellence. We are thrilled to accept the invitation to align with a conference with such a rich and storied tradition."
Joining the WAC is the latest storyline for a UVU Athletics program that has matured at an accelerated rate in recent years. In 2009, UVU ended seven years of provisional status and was officially recognized as a full NCAA Division I member, becoming the first and likely only institution to leap into the D-I ranks directly from junior college status. In the years since, UVU Athletics has produced Olympic and professional athletes, defeated national powerhouses in multiple sports and added new and renovated facilities.
"This move recognizes the many years of effort that have gone into building UVU's excellent athletics programs. Aligning with a nationally recognized conference partner like the WAC allows us to more fully reflect who we have become as an institution and athletics program," UVU Director of Athletics Michael V. Jacobsen said. "As we enter a new era for UVU Athletics, I am excited about the opportunities that await UVU and its student-athletes as we develop fruitful partnerships and athletic rivalries with regional sister institutions."
The move comes on the heels of a banner year for UVU Athletics. The Wolverine baseball team won 32 consecutive games this season, the third-longest streak in NCAA baseball history, and first-baseman Goose Kallunki earned consensus All-American honors and was drafted by the San Diego Padres. Mason Casper, grandson of golf legend Billy Casper, was ranked as high as No. 9 nationally and became the first-ever Wolverine golfer to quality for the NCAA Golf Championships when he received an at-large bid from the NCAA Selection Committee in early May. In the 2011 and 2012 school years, UVU produced six All-American athletes: Chris Benson (baseball), Billy Burgess (baseball), Austin Heaps (baseball), Kallunki (baseball), Ben Kjar (wrestling) and Isiah Williams (men's basketball).
The current 2013-14 WAC landscape includes Denver University, the University of Idaho, New Mexico State University, Seattle University, Utah Valley University and fellow newcomer California State University - Bakersfield.
"Both are quality institutions and bring high level competitive and academic qualities to the 2013-14 membership," said WAC Interim Commissioner Jeff Hurd of the two additions. "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."
The conference continues to explore other possible expansion scenarios. Prior to joining the WAC, UVU was a founding member of the Great West Conference, where the Wolverines won the Commissioner's Cup in each of its first three years of existence.
"We are grateful for the opportunities we were afforded as a member of the Great West Conference. It has been a wonderful experience the past three years," Jacobsen said.
The move positions UVU in a conference that is more geographically and regionally conducive to its situation. UVU is expected to realize an estimated travel savings of over 32 percent. In addition, the WAC carries an automatic berth into NCAA tournaments. The Wolverines are expected to add men's soccer as part of its migration to the WAC, which UVU hopes to be able to do, in part, with financial support from the local community.
The WAC is the sixth oldest among the nation's 11 Division I-A conferences. Its history traces back to July 27, 1962, when the original six-team league of Arizona, Arizona State, Brigham Young, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming began competition. The WAC has experienced tremendous success over the years. Since 2000, a total of 43 football teams have been invited to bowl games, including more than half of its teams in 2008 with a record-tying five. The conference has sent teams to BCS bowl games three times since 2006. In men's basketball, the WAC has sent at least two teams to the NCAA Tournament in 24 of the past 29 seasons. In baseball, the WAC has boasted two national champions since 2003.
Kellen Hiser is sports information assistant at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.
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