LOGAN — Earlier this week, Utah State University athletic director Scott Barnes entered his kitchen and sighed deeply. He was feeling aggravated about the coming year.
The department he leads, after all, would be adding Mountain West Conference membership to its list of upcoming items, which include new Nike logos, new uniforms for 12 of its 16 Division I sports teams and new athletic facilities currently under construction.
Good thing, he said, there was someone to put it all in perspective.
“My wife said I needed to realize what we have going right now,” Barnes said Friday morning, minutes after USU president Stan Albrecht announced that the university, along with San Jose State, had officially accepted an offer to join the Mountain West Conference. “I’m going to take my 14-year-old boy fly fishing this afternoon. I’m being told I need to step back.”
After a week of big changes in the athletic department, Barnes might be justified. It was the final day of finals week, but the first-floor conference room of the Agricultural Sciences building was overflowing with faculty, students and fans, all there to hear the official announcement.
USU and SJSU will begin competing in the MWC in the 2013-14 academic year in all sports except gymnastics, which the MWC does not sponsor.
USU gymnastics has several options for a new home that will be determined later.
Barnes said the university will not have to pay an exit fee to the WAC but will have to pay an as yet-undetermined amount to join the MWC.
For Albrecht, the university’s search to find a reliable conference with which to align has been something of an exodus. USU has been a part of six conferences, most recently the Western Athletic Conference, where the Aggies claimed 23 regular-season conference team championships in seven years.
“As all of you know, Moses wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. I don’t know why we had to do it for 50,” Albrecht said. “This decision renews historic rivalries and places us in a conference that is a model of athletic and academic success. We are proud to continue our very positive upward trajectory. This is a great day for Utah State athletics and for the university as a whole.”
During the 2012-13 season, Utah State will continue to compete in the WAC in all sports along with football members Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Texas State and UT-San Antonio, and non-football members Denver, Seattle and UT-Arlington. USU will leave the WAC as the conference faces the prospect of not having enough football-playing members to qualify as a conference by fall 2013.
While emphasizing that the team is looking forward to competing for a championship in the “highly competitive” WAC this fall, football coach Gary Andersen said that he is looking forward to membership in the Mountain West largely because he knows the conference well, having been an assistant coach at Utah and then in playing MWC schools during his three years as head coach in Logan
“I have respect for teams in the Mountain West, both those from the old alignment as well as the former WAC teams,” Andersen said. “It is an incredible opportunity for us to compete at a high level.”
“President Albrecht and Scott Barnes deserve lots of props for their efforts that made this move possible,” added basketball coach Stew Morrill. “A high level of commitment will be necessary by all Aggies to make this step-up successful. It’s certainly been an amazing journey from the Big West to the WAC and now to the Mountain West.”
The MWC has sent 11 men’s basketball teams to the NCAA tournament in the past three seasons, including four each in 2010 and 2012. With USU’s Smith Spectrum, the MWC will add another arena to some of the traditional difficult venues to play in the country, along with New Mexico’s The Pit and UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.
There was a key factor that caused MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson, who visited the USU campus last month, to be interested in considering USU for the conference. University presidents of each of the current MWC schools cast the final votes.
“I walked around and could see all these new facilities being built,” he said.“They have real commitment to their growth. They have real growth potential.”
Thompson added that “the table is open” for Boise State and San Diego State to stay with the MWC. Those schools previously declared that they will join the Big East.