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ST. GEORGE — Welcome to the WAC, Trailblazers.
Dixie State will move from NCAA Division II to Division I, with an expectation to join the Western Athletic Conference, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation.
The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because a deal has not yet been announced. An official announcement is expected Friday, according to one source, with a move to the WAC becoming official as early as July 2020.
Dixie State has scheduled a press conference for Friday at 3 p.m. MST when it will announce a “major announcement” to the athletic department.
The conference declined to comment on Dixie State’s move, deferring to a policy of not commenting on “speculation” from the media.
“Since my first day as the commissioner of the WAC, my policy has been not to comment publicly on speculative matters related in any way to membership,” WAC commissioner Jeff Hurd told KSL.com.
It is anticipated that the school's athletic department will be placed on a four-year transitional probation upon entry to Division I, making the Trailblazers eligible for postseason play prior to the 2024-25 academic year.
The school will be required to pay the WAC a $1.7 million application fee to join the conference, a cost that will be shared between the university via student fees and the athletic department.
But a feasibility study conducted by the school in November indicated that the increased fees will be worth it, with additional sponsorships, broadcast and media deals available to Division I teams that aren’t available at the Division II level.
The Trailblazers will be the fifth all-time member of the Western Athletic Conference from the state of Utah. BYU and Utah were founding members of the league, and when the two departed to help form the Mountain West, Utah State was among the schools added to replace them.
Utah Valley joined the WAC along with the remnants of the now-defunct Great West Conference in 2013, at which time the WAC dropped football to focus on sports like men’s and women’s basketball and men’s soccer.
So is football coming back to the WAC? No.
Not yet, at least.
The conference has no intentions of adding football, according to one source, but Dixie State will play on an interim basis as an FCS independent. As an FCS program, the Trailblazers could put together a schedule of fellow Division I FCS teams, such as those in the neighboring Big Sky Conference, and also accept guaranteed-money games against FBS programs like BYU, Utah and Utah State, as well as nearby schools like UNLV.
For those reasons, Dixie State, which plays its home games at the newly renovated 10,000-seat Trailblazer stadium, likely won’t have trouble scheduling football games for the foreseeable future, even without an immediate conference invitation.
Other WAC schools, like UT Rio Grande Valley and Chicago State, have conducted feasibility studies to considering adding football, and New Mexico State, which competes as an FBS independent, may consider moving down a level if the promise of a stable, regionally-sound conference materializes.
If football is not an option for the WAC, the school will likely add men’s swimming or men’s tennis, because they already have facilities for both programs. Apart from football, the Trailblazers currently host men’s programs in basketball, baseball, cross country, golf and soccer, and women’s sports programs in basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track and volleyball.
There are additional requirements that Dixie State will have to reach in order to join Division I, athletic director Jason Boothe told multiple media outlets when the school announced the results of its feasibility study. The university, which recently moved from the Pacific West to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in Division II, will need to add additional athletic department personnel to better align with other schools in the WAC; the league averages 35.5 athletic department officials, while Dixie State has 16.
The feasibility study also recommended the addition of six full-time coaches at the St. George-based school.
But feedback from the community was requested in three separate open-forum sessions, and the plan appears to have received positive support from students, faculty and residents of St. George — leading to this week’s historic announcement.
Dixie State competed in the National Junior College Athletic Association before making the jump to Division II in 2006-07. While at the JUCO ranks, the school boasted powerhouse programs in men’s basketball, baseball and softball, and currently boasts a men’s basketball program with a 224-105 in NCAA games under longtime head coach Jon Judkins.
The Trailblazers have won six Pac West Conference titles, two league tournament titles, and made eight NCAA Division II tournament appearances — including a berth in the Sweet 16 in 2011.
Contributing: Rod Zundel, KSL TV