UTPA Eyes Conference – Great West Considering All-Sports?
The University of Texas-Pan American is looking west in its decade-long search for conference affiliation.
Great West Commissioner Ed Grom said Tuesday he’s been working with UTPA and several other independent schools for six to eight weeks on adding an all-sports division under the umbrella of his conference, which is a five-team Football Championship Subdivision-only league.
Such a move would include several of UTPA’s existing sports and would not entail adding football or guarantee the NCAA will recognize the new Great West conference – even if it meets all the longterm requirements.
“Right now it’s just an idea of turning the Great West into an all-sports league, and (we) just threw out some ideas to people and different schools out there to see if there’s any interest in doing that,” Grom said. “That’s as far as it’s gotten at this point.”
The University of Texas System Board of Regents is holding a special meeting Friday in Austin, and one item on the agenda indicates UTPA is seeking “authorization to accept an invitation from the Great West Conference” and to finalize terms for membership therein.
Outgoing Broncs athletic director Scott Street and Dr. John Edwards, who oversees the department, have hinted for weeks they’ve been working closely with someone on affiliation, and Edwards promised a “significant” announcement by June 23.
Street, Edwards and interim AD Ricky Vaughn didn’t return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday, but Grom confirmed he’s been working with Street. He also said there’s been no official invitation extended to UTPA yet, as the idea of adding an all-sports division to the Great West still is only “in discussion.”
“I don’t know, maybe if it comes to pass it may be an acceptance, if it does happen,” Grom said when asked about the agenda item.
If the Broncs were to join the Great West – currently a football-only conference – it’s unlikely they’d face most of its current schools in conference play. UC-Davis and Cal Poly play basketball and baseball in the Division I Big West, and Southern Utah plays each sport in the D-I Summit League.
North Dakota and South Dakota fill out the league’s current roster after accepting invitations in August, 2007, to replace North Dakota State and South Dakota State for 2008. North Dakota and South Dakota begin D-I play in all other sports next season, so they could join UTPA.
“Cal Poly and UC Davis are in a conference, we’re already in a conference, and the Dakotas would love to get into a conference, but we’re certainly not going to leave the Summit League, which has its automatic bids, to join a conference that wouldn’t have an automatic bid,” said Neil Gardner, an assistant athletic director at Southern Utah.
“We would never do that.”
That leaves UTPA needing at least three other schools to meet the minimum six to be recognized by the NCAA. New Jersey Institute of Technology, Chicago State and Utah Valley State confirmed their interest Tuesday, and Longwood AD Troy Austin said his school has discussed the idea but declined to quantify his level of interest.
“I don’t know how far along it is, to be honest with you,” said Tim Camp, an assistant AD at NJIT. “I can’t really tell you much other than the fact that I have heard it mentioned, but I don’t know where it stands.”
If the schools do come together, they still won’t be an official NCAA member conference – and thus receive the all-important automatic bid for national postseason tournaments – until at least August 2011, when the current moratorium on creating new Division I conferences is lifted.
A potential all-sports Great West also would have to wait for any other schools that might join, such as NJIT or Chicago State, to finish their transitional processes and become D-I championship eligible.
“Obviously you wouldn’t get an automatic bid from the NCAA out of it right away, but I think there is some interest in having the games mean something at least on a conference level since we all play each other anyway,” Camp said.
The new conference likely would include UTPA’s basketball, baseball and volleyball teams, and possibly women’s tennis, golf and track & field. The men’s track & field team is joining the Ohio Valley Conference for 2008-09, the men’s golf team is in the American Sky Conference and the men’s tennis team competes in the Southland Conference.
Grom said if the independents do join together in the Great West, they likely wouldn’t begin a conference schedule until at least 2009-10.
“You’ve got to think that schedules are already done for next year in most sports, most of the team sports anyway,” Grom said. “And then getting everything approved at the presidential level, and some even have to go so far as the board level to get things approved.
“It could be a while.”