UTPA accepts invitation to join WAC starting in 2013-14
Posted: 12/19/2012
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The University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) Department of Intercollegiate Athletics announced in a press conference on Wednesday that they have formally accepted an invitation to join the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in all sports effective July 1, 2013.

"Joining the WAC is a wonderful opportunity for UT-Pan American," UTPA President Dr. Robert S. Nelsen said. "Our students will finally have a voice in NCAA decisions. They will also have an opportunity to compete for national championships. Our student-athletes and our coaches have worked very hard to get us to this point in time. I am very proud of them."

The WAC membership for 2013-14 is currently scheduled to include UTPA, California State University Bakersfield, Chicago State University, the University of Idaho, New Mexico State University, Seattle University and Utah Valley University, as well as associate members Sacramento State University in baseball, the University of Northern Colorado in baseball and women's swimming and diving, the University of North Dakota in women's swimming and diving, and Northern Arizona University in women's swimming and diving.

The WAC sponsors all 14 of the Broncs' current sports, including men's and women's cross country, women's volleyball, men's and women's basketball, baseball, men's and women's tennis, men's and women's golf, and men's and women's indoor and outdoor track and field.

All of the Broncs teams have been competing in the Great West Conference since the 2009-10 season, with the exception of men's tennis, which is a member of the Southland Conference, and men's golf, which is part of the America Sky Conference.

For the first time since the 1997-98 season, when the Broncs were members of the Sun Belt Conference, UTPA women's volleyball, men's and women's basketball, baseball, women's tennis and women's golf will be able to compete for an automatic qualifier into the NCAA Tournament. Men's tennis and men's golf are currently able to compete for automatic qualifiers in the Southland Conference and America Sky Conference, respectively. Cross country and track and field qualifiers are based on times and distances, not conference championships.

"This is a defining moment in the history of UTPA Athletics, and it has been a long time coming. We have been working hard for the last few years to transform this department into one that is no longer content with simply being at the Division I level, but instead has a strong group of student-athletes and coaches who can help us compete for championships while excelling in the classroom and the community. This is another step in that transformation process," UTPA Director of Athletics Chris King said. "Aligning ourselves with a nationally recognized and well-branded conference such as the WAC will allow us to gain national exposure for both UTPA and the entire Rio Grande Valley."

All eight full-time members are in the top 126 media markets in the nation, with seven in the top 91 and four in the top 33. In 2012, the Rio Grande Valley was the fastest growing of those markets, adding 5,810 TV homes, an increase of 1.6 percent. Nielsen, a company that measures media audiences, including television, is currently projecting the Rio Grande Valley to move up one spot in 2013, to market No. 86, and add another 2,340 TV homes, an increase of 0.6 percent.

Additionally, Nielsen projects the Rio Grande Valley to be the 10th largest Hispanic television market in the country, at 2.219 percent of the total, giving the WAC four of the top 15 Hispanic markets, along with No. 6 Chicago (Chicago State), No. 9 Phoenix (Grand Canyon), and No. 15 El Paso/Las Cruces (New Mexico State).

"The addition of The University of Texas-Pan American adds another important piece to the rebuilding of the Western Athletic Conference," WAC Interim Commissioner Jeff Hurd said. "UTPA brings a program with 60 years of history and success, and we look forward to the Broncs competing at a high level in the WAC."

The Broncs have been competing in intercollegiate athletics since the early 1950s. The baseball team has seen the most success at the NCAA Division I level, reaching the NCAA Tournament 13 times, including an appearance in one College World Series, while producing 32 MLB draftees, four of whom reached the majors. Notable alumni include Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey and Florida Marlins first base coach Perry Hill. The head coach of all of the Broncs' playoff teams, Al Ogletree, retired as one of the winningest head coaches in NCAA history with 1,217 victories. The Broncs went 30-22 in 2012, including a road win over No. 8 Texas A&M.

The men's basketball team is celebrating the 50th anniversary of their NAIA National Championship this year. The Broncs met immediate success in their first year as an NCAA Division I program, reaching the 1968 NCAA Division II Southwest Regional and winning their first round game. They also reached the 1981 NIT in a season that included a win over the No. 5 and eventual NCAA Champion Indiana Hoosiers. The Broncs have produced 18 NBA draftees, six of whom played in the NBA, including Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Luke Jackson. The Broncs have also produced 18 All-Americans, most recently in 2001-02 when Mire Chatman earned the honor. Chatman has been a star in Europe since graduating, averaging 19.7 points per game in Turkey last season. The Broncs went 18-13 in 2007-08 to win the Independent Championship. That year, Paul Stoll finished second in the NCAA in assists per game (7.2) and 10th in steals per game (2.5). That same season, former Bronc Sergio Sanchez (class of 2004) became the first of three former Broncs to play in the NBA Development League.

The men's tennis team has seen considerable success as well, winning 13 conference championships, six doubles national championships, five team national championships and four singles national championships. In 1966, their first year as an NCAA Division I program, the Broncs made their first of two appearances at the NCAA Championships, finishing sixth. One of the most notable former Broncs was Sherwood Stewart. He won five Grand Slam titles in doubles, including the 1976 and 1982 French Opens, the 1984 and 1987 Australian Opens, and Wimbledon in 1988. Stewart became the oldest Wimbledon champion in history at age 42.

The women's tennis team has a pair of conference championships on their résumé, including the 1989 American South Championship and the 2010 Great West Conference Championship.

The men's golf team has produced five NCAA Division I National Championship qualifiers and two All-Americans. The women's golf team has produced one NCAA Division I Regional Championship qualifier. Both teams have won five PGA National Minority Golf Championships each and were featured on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel after winning in 2002.

The men's track & field team has produced five All-Americans while men's cross country has had one. Women's track & field has produced two All-Americans, three NCAA National Qualifiers and five NAIA national qualifiers. Notable alumni include Jameson Strachan, who qualified for the 2012 International Association of Athletics Federations Indoor World Championships with the Bahamas 4x400-meter relay team. Recent success includes Judith Chumba, who won the last two Great West Conference Women's Cross Country Championships and Runner of the Year awards while also taking All-Region honors. Additionally, McAllen-native Andy Lopez and Jasmine Webb represented the Broncs at the NCAA Outdoor Championships West Preliminary Round in the 800-meter run and 100-meter dash, respectively, last season.

The WAC was formed on July 27, 1962, making it the sixth oldest among the NCAA's 11 Division I-A conferences. Member institutions met quick success as Utah reached the NCAA Final Four while BYU won the NIT in 1966.

More recent success includes Utah reaching the 1998 men's basketball championship game and leading for most of the game before finishing as runner up to Kentucky. Two months later, Fresno State won the national championship in softball and UNLV won the national championship in men's golf.

Since 2000, Tulsa has won the NIT (2001) while Rice and Fresno State have won NCAA championships in baseball (2003 and 2008 respectively). Additionally, in 2006, Louisiana Tech's Paul Milsap became the first player in NCAA history to lead the nation in rebounding three years in a row.

The WAC has sent at least two teams to the men's basketball NCAA Tournament in 24 of the last 29 seasons.