GCU Officially Becomes Member of Western Athletic Conference
By Bob Romantic
GCU News Bureau
The website of the Western Athletic Conference has a decidedly different look these days.
Logos and information about Grand Canyon University and five other new members are sprinkled throughout wacsports.com, as the institutions officially became members of the conference today.
Joining GCU as new members of the nine-team WAC are Cal State Bakersfield, Chicago State, Missouri-Kansas City, Texas-Pan American and Utah Valley – along with holdovers Idaho, New Mexico State and Seattle — for the 2013-14 school year.
The July 1 date is tied to the start of the fiscal year for NCAA members and is one of three key dates this summer as GCU begins the reclassification process from Division II to Division I athletics.
June 1 was the deadline for the University to submit its application and entry fee to NCAA Division I.
And by Aug. 1, the Antelopes must ensure they are meeting D-I eligibility standards for their teams and student-athletes.
“The successive firsts — June, July and August — each has a little bit about them that we have to apply,” said Keith Baker, athletic director at GCU. “We have also started scheduling some initial orientation sessions for late summer where we will go through webinars with NCAA management and they’ll walk us through the initial stages of our membership process, with a representative from the Western Athletic Conference there as well.”
Grand Canyon is ineligible for NCAA postseason play during a four-year transition period, so it can’t participate in postseason tournaments in the WAC in which an automatic NCAA tournament berth is awarded (all sports except golf, swimming, track and cross country).
However, GCU will still have some involvement in the WAC championships in the upcoming school year. The University will serve as a neutral-site host for the WAC Volleyball Tournament on Nov. 25-27. And the WAC Women’s Golf Tournament will take place April 25-27 at Longbow Golf Club in Mesa, with Seattle University serving as the host. Grand Canyon also hosted the WAC spring meetings last month, giving member schools and conference representatives an opportunity to tour the fast-growing Phoenix campus.
Individual sports schedules for GCU’s first year as a Division I institution are still being finalized, but expect to see far fewer home games at the outset. In Year 1 of the transition to D-I, GCU is still considered a Division II school for scheduling purposes.
“That will affect our schedule somewhat this year,” Baker said. “While there are many Division I’s that would be open to playing us, that usually means, if you count as a D-II opponent, they’ll only play you if you come to their place.
“However, I think our coaches are being very strategic in utilizing a larger road schedule during this 2013-14 academic year in order to build promises of return games for the future so that in 2014-15, 2015-16 and beyond, we will be able to have more home games. … It’s just this first year that creates a lot of the issue for us. You just have to kind of grit your teeth and get through it.”
That can also temper on-field expectations, especially in Year 1.
“It’s going to be a little different on a sport-by-sport basis,” Baker said of the expectations. “That figures into the assessment of what we believe we should be able to do. Is there the expectation that we will go out and be a dominant member of the Western Athletic Conference? I don’t know that anybody has that in mind. I think the idea is that it is going to be a learning process for us. … We just have to see how a lot of that plays out.
“We will do our due diligence in ensuring that our student-athletes are prepared and that we’re doing our best to find student-athletes who are competitive in the Division I environment. I think we’ve gotten some good signs early in that a lot of the student-athletes that we’re recruiting are also being recruited by other members of either the Western Athletic Conference or other regional conferences around us. It’s kind of the idea that if they’re choosing between us and other Division I schools, at least we’re looking at the right kids. That piece of the puzzle is starting to fall into place. Then it’s just a matter of how well we’re able to grow into that new level of competition.”
Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or [email protected].