On Monday, July 1, Utah Valley University officially became a member of the new-look Western Athletic Conference, marking a new era for the athletic program.
“Today, we are elated to place Wolverine athletics officially under the WAC banner,” said UVU President Matthew S. Holland. “As members of a conference with such a strong and storied tradition, we will benefit academically even as we build new successes athletically — bringing a broad new enthusiasm to our campus and community. We are proud of our success and tenure in the Great West Conference and anticipate the momentum gained there will translate to future success in the WAC.”
The change was announced last October at a press conference in the UCCU Center. It marks the first time in Utah Valley’s NCAA Division I era that the entire athletic program will compete in a conference that holds automatic bids to NCAA postseason tournaments.
Since its initial move to NCAA Division I in 2003, the UVU Athletics program that has matured at an accelerated rate. In 2009, UVU ended seven years of provisional status and was officially recognized as a full NCAA Division I member. In the years since, UVU Athletics has produced Olympic and professional athletes, defeated national powerhouses in multiple sports and added new and renovated facilities.
The athletic program is also seeing a change at the top of its leadership as long-time athletic director Mike Jacobsen’s retirement became official on June 30, after 29 years at the helm of UVU Athletics. Vince Otoupal will begin his tenure as the new director of athletics – the third in the school’s athletic history – on July 15.
"It's a thrilling time to be a Wolverine,” Otoupal said. “UVU’s membership in the WAC will provide for us invaluable opportunities both academically and athletically. Our student-athletes, and the entire University, will benefit tremendously from being a part of a nationally renowned conference. Mike Jacobsen has done unprecedented things here at UVU. President Holland’s vision for Wolverine Athletics is exciting and I'm anxious to build on the foundation and within the framework of success that has been outlined."
The 2013-14 WAC landscape includes the University of Idaho, New Mexico State University, Seattle University, Utah Valley University and fellow newcomers California State University – Bakersfield, Chicago State University, the University of Missouri – Kansas City and the University of Texas–Pan American.
“We are excited for Utah Valley to be an official member of the WAC,” WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd said. “Utah Valley is the fastest-growing public university in the state of Utah and is projected to become the largest school in the state. UVU’s upside and potential are energizing. The school has a strong academic foundation and state-of-the-art facilities that we hope to use for future WAC championships.”
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.