The Big West will get even bigger when San Diego State University (SDSU) joins the conference in 14 sports, including basketball, in 2013. The announcement came last month after SDSU announced its football team will join the Big East Conference.
The Aztec’s athletics director Jim Sterk said in a December press conference he is excited about creating new rivalries, recruiting options and opportunities to win conference championships.
“The Big West is a great fit for us geographically, academically and athletically,” he said. “There were different options out there, but as the (SDSU) president and I talked about it, this was the best fit.”
SDSU leaves a Mountain West Conference comprised of universities scattered in small-market areas such as Las Vegas, New Mexico and Colorado, for the more regionally concentrated Big West, in which every school besides Hawaii is located in California.
The Aztecs were one of the six original schools in the Big West Conference, then known as the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, when it was founded in 1969. They left after nine years to join the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), where they competed until 1998.
Cal Poly athletics director Don Oberhelman, who served as senior associate athletics director at SDSU before his appointment at Cal Poly, said the realignment will benefit not just Cal Poly, but the entire Big West Conference.
“San Diego State gives us an immediate punch in the arm,” he said. “They make us better in all of our sports.”
The move brings a strong athletics program boasting top-notch facilities and an established fan base of more than 30,000 students, to an expanding conference that will also add the University of Hawaii to its membership this fall.
Oberhelman said although SDSU significantly raises the bar amongst Big West schools in basketball, the level of conference competition will be elevated in sports such as baseball, volleyball and tennis.
The Aztecs men’s basketball team won their 11th straight game Tuesday, and ranks 13th in the Division I Associated Press Top 25 Poll. Last season, the Aztecs went 32-2 in the regular season and lost to eventual national champion University of Conneticut in the Sweet 16.
Cal Poly men’s basketball head coach Joe Callero said the Aztecs’ perennial program sets a great example of what current Big West schools should look like.
“We have an opportunity to improve the overall strength of the conference,“ he said. “It radiates to all coaches teaching the game and administrators in the conference.”
Callero compared SDSU’s Viejas Arena, which seats more than 12,000 fans, to Mott Gym’s seating capacity of roughly 3,000. As the conference expands, he said he hopes improvements are made at Cal Poly to narrow the gap between its facilities and those of the elite programs.
“Half of the teams in the Big West play in an arena and half play in a gym,” Callero said. “Facilities are what draw NBA-class players.”
Cal Poly played SDSU in basketball only once in the last eight years — in 2010 at Viejas Arena. The Mustangs lost by six, but Callero said it was a competitive game that came down to the final minutes.
Big West powerhouse Long Beach State is the most viable contender in the conference to date. They lost to the Aztecs in overtime 77-73 earlier this season, and received votes in the national polls but have yet to crack the top 25.
Cal Poly women’s basketball lost its non-conference game at SDSU by one point earlier this season, in which senior forward Kristina Santiago scored 44 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
In addition to men’s and women’s basketball, the Aztecs will join the Big West in baseball, softball, women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s track and field, women’s cross country and women’s water polo.