The University of Texas-Pan American celebrated a landmark decision today to join the Great West Conference, an all-sports league, which will provide a home for 11 of 14 UTPA Department of Intercollegiate Athletics programs.
UTPA is one of six NCAA Division I independent schools to accept a membership into the Great West, a football-only conference since 2004, which most recently decided to expand its organization to an all-sports conference to include basketball, volleyball, baseball, and other sports. A press conference was held at the Visitors Center to announce UTPA's membership.
"What the Great West provides is a home for a majority of the NCAA Division I independent institutions that have struggled to schedule contests each year while at the same time providing opportunity for their student-athletes to call themselves champions," Great West Commissioner Ed Grom said. "Once institutions in the Great West are able to secure active status within the NCAA, we can begin to look to secure automatic bids into championships."
With the Great West expanding to an all-sports conference, Grom said the name and brand of the organization will be front-and-center throughout the year, rather than just during the football season.
Grom said he credits former UTPA Director of Athletics Scott Street, who resigned from his post in May, for taking the initiative to start the talks with other independent schools and get the ball rolling on the development of the Great West.
For Street, who currently serves as a special assistant to the vice president for the Division of Enrollment and Student Services, the announcement could not have come at a better time as he prepares to leave UTPA Aug. 31.
"This is one of things when I came here three years ago that I wanted to accomplish, and that was to have us in a formal conference. It is certainly something we have accomplished and I'm glad that we can move forward. It is a good thing to leave behind," Street said.
Joining UTPA in the Great West Conference are Utah Valley University, The University of North Dakota, The University of South Dakota, Houston Baptist University, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. The UTPA sports programs that will fall under the umbrella of the Great West include baseball, volleyball, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's cross country, women's golf, women's tennis, and women's indoor and outdoor track and field. The remainder of UTPA's athletics programs - men's golf, men's tennis, and men's indoor and outdoor track and field - already compete in other conferences.
Even though a conference schedule for the Great West will not officially start until 2009-2010, Street said this will be a good opportunity for UTPA to start working as part of conference and also use the resources available to help refine the athletics department.
"Being in a conference will help develop rivalries, community interest and our standings will actually be in USA Today under the Great West Conference," Street said. "I think this will help us in recruitment quite a bit as it will give student-athletes a better chance to play in post-season competition and a better chance to be recognized at a national level," Street said.
"Joining a conference will mean that our student-athletes will have additional opportunities for post-season play, particularly for conference championships. It will also mean that our teams will be able to play more home games with potential universities, which should become sports rivals," Edwards said. "We are excited about the possibilities for our student-athletes, students, alumni, and our University."
University Interim Director of Athletics Ricky Vaughn said this is a momentous occasion in UTPA Athletics and he is looking forward to the many benefits that will be made available to the student-athletes, coaches, and the community, particularly the opportunity to compete for conference and post-season championships.
"This is something that our student-athletes are very deserving of and we are finally able to offer this to them," Vaughn said. "The Great West also will allow us to have a consistent home and away schedule, which will give our fans more home games to attend and lessen the travel that our athletic teams make. This is definitely an exciting time for us and we look forward to creating a new chapter in UTPA Athletics history by joining the Great West," Vaughn said.
For more information on UTPA Athletics, call 956/381-2221 or visit http://utpabroncs.cstv.com/.
To learn more about the Great West Conference, visit http://greatwestconference.cstv.com/.