Houston • Southern Utah made its move from the Big Sky Conference to the Western Athletic Conference official Thursday.
The WAC announced it will add five new members, including the Thunderbirds, and revive football at the Football Championship Subdivision level in 2022.
The WAC previously sponsored football at the Football Bowl Subdivision from 1962 until 2012. Seven Pro Football Hall of Famers played in the WAC and the conference boasts 43 NFL First Round picks.
SUU president Scott L. Wyatt said the Thunderbirds are thrilled to be making the move.
“Southern Utah University is honored to join the WAC and help lead the resurgence of this great conference,” Wyatt said in a statement. “We join a group of universities that is growing in enrollment and a conference that is poised for the future. Being a member of the WAC also creates new athletic rivalries that our alumni and fans are excited about. This is a win-win opportunity for SUU and we look forward to the future.”
Four of the schools — Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin — are in Texas and currently are members of the Southland Conference.
The additions, including SUU, will create a 13-team conference that will be divided into two divisions for team sports other than football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball.
One division will consist of the Texas-based institutions including current WAC members Tarleton State University and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The other division will include SUU along with Dixie State, New Mexico State, Grand Canyon, California Baptist, Seattle and Utah Valley.
“I cannot overstate my level of excitement in making this expansion announcement,” WAC commissioner Jeff Hurd said in a statement. “The opportunity to bring five quality institutions into the conference, to significantly strengthen the WAC’s national basketball brand and other championship sport profiles, and to bring football back under the WAC umbrella is one that made sense
“The end result could not have been accomplished without the collaboration and shared visions of the WAC’s Board of Directors and the Presidents of the incoming institutions,” Hurd added. “It not only stabilizes the conference for the future; it also positions it for significant growth and success.”
THE NEW WAC
New Mexico State
Sam Houston State
Stephen F. Austin
Tarleton State University
Texas Rio Grande Valley
The addition of football will bring to 20 (10 men’s and 10 women’s) the number of sports in which the WAC will sponsor championships. Divisional play only will be held for baseball, softball, volleyball, men’s soccer and women’s soccer with championship tournaments held at the conclusion of each of the conference seasons.
Men’s and women’s basketball will feature both divisional and crossover play with the number of conference games to be played still to be determined. The conference’s tournament will remain in Las Vegas.
The new members, along with Dixie State and Tarleton, will give the WAC seven full-time members that play in, or are transitioning to, the Football Championship Subdivision. It is anticipated that at least one more football-playing member will be added, but a timetable has not yet been established.
“The opportunity to become a member of the WAC is very exciting for us,” SUU athletic director Debbie Corum said in a statement. “We believe that the future of SUU Athletics as a member of the WAC will provide exciting opportunities for our student-athletes, coaches and fans. It was an honor to be invited to join this group of institutions that possess a strong vision for the future and will challenge us to continue to grow as an athletic department and as an institution.”