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ELMHURST, ILL. — The Great West has had a very successful run in its first four years as a football-only conference, but the league will take a giant leap forward in the coming years when it expands to include a minimum of six schools and 14 additional sports, Commissioner Ed Grom announced today. By expanding to an all-sports league, the Great West has invited six schools to enter under the Great West umbrella and begin competing in several sports in the 2008-09 year and beginning full conference scheduling in team sports and conducting the full complement of championships in 2009-10.
The schools becoming members of the all-sports league are Houston Baptist University (HBU), New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), University of North Dakota (UND), University of South Dakota (USD), University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) and Utah Valley University. All six schools have accepted the invitation, and additional institutions may announce their acceptance in the next few months.
The Great West Football Conference includes the University of North Dakota, the University of South Dakota, Cal Poly, UC Davis and Southern Utah. Football-only members Cal Poly and UC Davis will remain in the Big West for the balance of their athletic teams, while Southern Utah will continue to compete in the Summit League.
North Dakota and South Dakota, new football members that will begin play in the fall, as well as Houston Baptist are currently in their second year of transition up to the Division I level. All three schools will become NCAA Division I counters for scheduling purposes in 2009-10. Texas-Pan American has been a member of NCAA Division I for many years, while Utah Valley University and NJIT become active Division I members in 2009-10.
"This is a similar concept to when the Great West was started for football back in 2004," Grom said. "There were several NCAA Division I-AA independent schools that were looking for a conference home, and this was an opportunity every school embraced. Four years later, the Great West has become one of the most respected leagues in the Football Championship Subdivision. By adding more sports, we opened up opportunities for more schools and more student-athletes to compete for league titles and earn individual recognition."
The Great West will immediately provide compliance-related assistance to the institutions as well as provide one common avenue for National Letter of Intent filing, NCAA Coaches Certification Tests and general day-to-day correspondence on NCAA policy matters. During the 2008-09 season, while maintaining a higher level of attracting recognition to the league's football success, the Great West will also name players of the week and players of the month in all sponsored sports.
"We are pleased to gain membership in the Great West as it expands to an all-sports conference and formalize some of the scheduling ties we have built as an independent since we first began facing Division I competition in all sports in 2006-2007," said Robert Altenkirch, NJIT President. "Joining a conference enhances NJIT athletics as we continue to build our young NCAA Division I athletics program. It provides conference championship competition for our student-athletes and alleviates the difficulties of trying to schedule as an independent when conference-affiliated teams play a conference schedule, especially for basketball in late January and February. At the same time, we will continue playing attractive non-conference opponents on a regional and national level."
"We are excited about our move into the Great West Conference," said HBU President Robert Sloan. "The identity that comes with conference membership will impact our entire HBU community, including our faculty, staff, students, and alumni, and help build a stronger campus atmosphere. Our participation in the conference will also provide an array of exciting sporting events for the greater Houston community. We are looking forward to building relationships with the other conference schools and the athletic community at large."
"After a decade without an all sports conference affiliation, the university and especially, our UTPA Broncs and Lady Broncs are proud to accept admission into the Great West Conference. This is a significant occasion for our University and our student-athletes and coaches, who have represented UTPA athletically over the years with great pride," said UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas.
"The Great West Conference is such a great opportunity for our student athletes," said Utah Valley director of athletics Michael Jacobsen. "The opportunity to play for a conference championship, to receive academic honors and to make all-conference teams is something they deserve. They have earned that right. Being an independent has been hard, but our student athletes have been very supportive and up beat. This will make scheduling much easier and there will be less class time missed. The support we receive from the conference office, in areas of compliance, media relations and letter of intent, will benefit our total athletics program. Even though our competition will not drastically change, it will become much more meaningful as we play for championships. This is a good day for Wolverine Athletics."
With the expansion, the Great West will change its website from greatwestfootball.com to greatwestconference.org, effective immediately. A total redesign of the website will be completed by mid-September. The next month will be spent ratifying the Constitution, Bylaws and Sport Regulations of the Great West, as well as producing 2009-10 schedules for all team sports.
"USD's decision to join the Great West Conference will provide an immediate positive impact on the athletic department in several ways, said South Dakota athletic director Joel Nielsen. "First and foremost, our student-athletes will have the opportunity to compete for Division I conference championships along with various league honors. Our coaches will benefit greatly in recruiting to a league versus the independent status. The Great West will also assist in scheduling, providing more home contests in several sports. Another benefit of conference affiliation deals with compliance related issues, including National Letter of Intent filing, rules interpretations, compliance reviews, etc. In the end, this move to join the Great West Conference is a positive move for The University of South Dakota, and most importantly, our student-athletes."