In the eyes of its most devoted fans, Utah State has finally come home.
On Monday, the Aggies’ move to the Mountain West conference - in planning for more than a year - became official. Leaving the Western Athletic Conference, Utah State made a step that should lead to better athletic competition, more exposure and greater security in an era of seemingly endless shifting in college sports.
The Aggies first accepted the invitation back in May 2012. Since then, Utah State fans, players and administrators been looking forward to the changeover, seen as a sizeable upgrade from the WAC. San Jose State joined the Aggies in the move, becoming the 10th and 11th full members of the Mountain West.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the teams in the Mountain West, both those that are remaining from the old alignment as well as the former WAC teams,” football coach Matt Wells said in a school news release. “It is an incredible opportunity for us to compete at a high level.”
The conference boasts many of Utah State’s historic regional rivals, including Boise State, Colorado State, Nevada and Wyoming. The conference has also secured television deals with ESPN and CBS Sports Network, which will give the Aggies’ programs more television exposure than they’ve ever had historically.
The Mountain West move is a high point thus far under Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes, who has overseen facilities upgrades and coaching hires that improved the school’s teams. More projects are in progress, including a multi-million dollar center for volleyball and basketball. Utah State fans are also hopeful Wells, who takes over for Gary Andersen this fall, can keep winning on the football field - a big reason Utah State was invited to the Mountain West at all.
Aggies fans have sought refuge in the Mountain West for years. The school hopes it brings a long history of conference pinball to an end. Utah State has been in the Big West, the Sun Belt Conference and the WAC over the past few decades - even going independent in football.
“This is a great day for Utah State and an exciting and challenging move for our programs,” men’s basketball coach Stew Morrill said in the release. “President Stan Albrecht and Director of Athletics Scott Barnes deserve lots of props for their efforts that made this move possible. ... It’s certainly been an amazing journey from the Big West to the WAC and now to the Mountain West.”
Utah State starts play in the new conference this fall. The Aggies football team will be the first to play a conference opponent, facing Air Force on the road on Sept. 7. The volleyball and women’s soccer teams follow up with conference games on Sept. 18 and Sept. 27, respectively.