Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Michael Jacobsen, Utah Valley University's Director of Athletics, announces UVU will be joining the Great West Conference in 2009-10.

OREM — A major piece of the collegiate-athletics puzzle fell into place Thursday afternoon as Director of Athletics Michael Jacobsen announced with an aura of elation that Utah Valley University has accepted an invitation to compete in the Great West Conference.

Along with six other schools, UVU will engage in a full compliment of competition as a member of the Great West in the 2009-10 season. After four years as a football-only conference, the Great West has decided to expand to include a minimum of six schools and an additional 14 sports.

The schools that have thus far accepted the invitation are Houston Baptist University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, the University of North Dakota, University of South Dakota, the University of Texas Pan-American and Utah Valley University, with invitations to other institutions still on the table.

"This is a great day for Utah Valley University and a great day for our community," Jacobsen said. "The Great West Conference is such a great opportunity for our student-athletes. The opportunity to play for conference championships, to receive academic honors and to make all-conference teams is something they deserve."

One of the biggest problems UVU has encountered in its short Division I life span has been scheduling.

"Scheduling has become really hard," Jacobsen said. "Much of that is our own problem because we've been successful."

After enjoying a fair amount of success with radar-blip wins over nationally respected programs, including victories over Arizona State in baseball and basketball, among others, schools have had reservations about scheduling a lesser-known school with upset potential like Utah Valley.

As a member of the Great West Conference, UVU will have an easier time filling its schedule while competing for conference championships, and it will have more opportunity to qualify for NCAA postseason tournaments as well.

Utah Valley will enter its final year of NCAA provisional status this coming season and should be accepted as an official member of the NCAA the following year when its conference play will formally begin. In addition to an improved schedule, UVU hopes to benefit in the recruiting battle with the added exposure of being affiliated with a conference.

Athletes who used to have reservations about attending a university without a conference will now have the opportunity to compete in the Great West. As far as an automatic bid to play in postseason tournaments, the Great West is still several years away from consideration. However, an at-large bid is within reach and could very well be attainable if a member of the conference were to have a breakout season. The added validity of being a conference champion should bring with it the attention and respect needed to help members of the Great West become noticed on a national scale.

"With this new announcement today we extend an invitation to the entire community to rally behind the Wolverines," said UVU Vice President for Student Affair Cory Duckworth. "We think the Great West Conference is going to be a tremendous opportunity."