SALT LAKE CITY — One college athletics conference commissioner with prominent ties to the state of Utah is about to enter free agency.
After 37 years with the conference, including the past decade as commissioner, Jeff Hurd will step down as commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference in December, the league announced Wednesday morning.
"The cliché is all good things come to an end," Hurd said in a statement from the league, "and this is no exception. I remember my first day in the office literally like it was yesterday and cannot fathom it was closer to four decades ago."
Hurd has been with the conference for more than half of its existence, joining the league in August of 1985 as director of conference relations. Joining shortly after BYU became the first — and only — WAC school to win a college football championship, Hurd oversaw a group of athletic programs who operated outside of the biggest markets and moneymakers in college athletics but consistently punched above their weight.
His tenure with the league saw every Division I school in Utah save one join the WAC, beginning with BYU and Utah until both broke away for the Mountain West shortly before the turn of the century. The WAC then began a process of adding several schools to increase not only its profitability, but survivability, including Utah State from the Big West in 2005.
"Commissioner Joe Kearney gave me the opportunity to come to the WAC, and I can't begin to name all of those who have positively influenced me throughout my career," Hurd said. "Success in anything also does not occur without the assistance of many others. I have been extremely fortunate to have had outstanding mentors, business counterparts, office staff and friends along with great support from my wife Cheri and our family.
"I am extremely proud of what has been accomplished during my tenure, and the WAC always will be a part of me. I know the conference is very well positioned to move forward."
When the Aggies accepted an invitation to join the Mountain West — along with San Jose State, and shortly after Boise State had likewise bolted the WAC — the conference was put on the edge of elimination. Former commissioner Karl Benson left for the Sun Belt Conference in 2012, when Hurd was named interim commissioner.
Hurd and his group went to work to survive. They absorbed the remnants of the now-defunct Great West Conference — a group of schools with little connection to one another that played in a coast-to-coast league with no automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. In this, Utah was also key to the WAC's plan.
Utah Valley and Cal State Bakersfield were the first teams invited to help stabilize the league, but it did not prevent two more schools from defecting. So instead, the WAC added Grand Canyon, Chicago State, Texas-Pan American (now UT-Rio Grande Valley) and Missouri-Kansas City (now Kansas City) to bolster its numbers and keep its own autobid procurement.
That also led to the league officially dropping football, with only one school, New Mexico State, able to field a Division I FBS team at the time.
California Baptist joined the conference in 2017, transitioning from NCAA Division II, just ahead of Bakersfield's departure for the Big West. Two years later, Kansas City announced a move to the Summit League.
That led to Hurd again tapping the Beehive State for replacements, adding Dixie State in St. George and Tarleton State in Texas from Division II to the conference.
Then on Jan. 14, the conference made its biggest expansion splash. The WAC added Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin to form a Texas contingent of schools which, along with Southern Utah, would create a 13-team league comprising two divisions in most sports. In a corresponding move, the conference and Chicago State announced a separation, aligning the league back to its original west coast and southwest-based geographic territories.
"I've been with the conference for a long time, and I've been through a lot of peaks and valleys in terms of membership," Hurd said at the time of the announcement. "Stability is a key, and one of the ways you do that is not just by adding numbers, but by making sense of your geography. We were able to do that with this move."
It also brought back WAC football, with the Texas schools receiving expedited membership July 1 and joining Dixie State and Tarleton State to form a six-team conference in the sport. SUU will join in all sports in 2022, leaving the Big Sky to link up with natural rival Dixie State and in-state foe Utah Valley in a year.
"Jeff Hurd has done a remarkable job in leading the WAC to its current status," said Seattle University president Stephen Sundborg, the outgoing chair of the WAC's board of directors. "We are grateful to him for putting the WAC in the position of a very promising future as a conference.
"The debt of gratitude to him of our thirteen member schools is immense. As we look to his successor as commissioner, we will build on the legacy of what he has dedicated himself to over many years. His service to this conference is unparalleled."
In addition to commissioner of the WAC, the native of Minot, North Dakota is also chair of the NCAA's playing rules oversight panel. Hurd recently completed a four-year term on the NCAA's Division I competition oversight committee, and has also worked on the NCAA baseball rules committee.