The college football conference shake up has hit San Luis Obispo.
After years of speculation, Cal Poly will leave the Great West conference and join the Big Sky conference for football starting in the 2012 season, Cal Poly Interim President Robert Glidden announced today.
With the move, the Mustangs join Montana, Montana State, Idaho State, Eastern Washington, Northern Arizona, Sacramento State, Northern Colorado, Weber State and Portland State along with UC Davis — which is expected to accept the invitation to the conference along with Cal Poly — as a member of what might arguably be the best conference in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
“It is football only,” Glidden said. “It means that we will be able to maintain our relationship with the Big West conference on all our other sports. In many respects we consider this to be an ideal solution for us.”
This shift is the team’s fourth conference realignment since Cal Poly became a part of the FCS, formerly known as Division I-AA. The Mustangs were members of the American West Conference in 1994 and 1995 and then joined the newly formed Great West conference in 2004 after going independent for eight years.
This shift has been long overdue, Glidden said.
“For one thing, it is my understanding — I have not been here a long time — but since 1994 Cal Poly has been looking for this kind of a move,” Glidden said. “And one of the good things about this is that it creates a natural football rivalry with a number of schools in our region.”
Among its new conference foes, Cal Poly could hold regional rivalries with four schools — that is, if UC Davis decides to join as well — that play in California or bordering states. It is a fact Glidden said is positive not only for a football program, but to the entire campus experience.
“A whole student body gets up when it’s a natural rivalry,” Glidden said. “Part of what we try to do as a university is provide a quality student lifestyle, and being involved, being engaged and being excited about a sports program is part of that.”
The benefits extend to head coach Tim Walsh and his players as well. Without having to travel to places such as Virginia and Louisiana to play non-conference opponents, student athletes can say goodbye to long road trips during midterms and classes and stay a bit closer to home.
“To me one of the biggest factors is the student athlete, and if you looked at what were going to do in the next five weeks and putting them through the will of the travel that they are going to have,” Walsh said.“It is going to have an affect on the student athlete at some point in time … I look for (the move to the Big Sky) to be only an enhancement for our program.”
Walsh is familiar with his team’s new conference region and foes as a head coach for Portland State for 14 years. It can only be an advantage, he said.
“I am going to have the opportunity to go back and coach against some teams that I have coached against or coached for a lot of times. So I have a lot of familiarity with what we are going to face,” Walsh said. “I think we will be ready to compete extremely well immediately (in the Big Sky).”
In recent years, there has been talk about Cal Poly potentially moving into the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and with the conference realignment in the FBS, it seemed as if this offseason Cal Poly had a realistic shot at moving into a conference such as the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), where television contracts and popular opponents would submit Cal Poly to national exposure.
“We have been looking forever since we have been Division-I; we have been trying to find the best stable situation for our football program,” athletics director Alison Cone said. “We certainly had some conversations about the Western Athletic conference, (but) I think the Big Sky conference is the perfect fit for us.”
This move may just be the tip of the iceberg, Glidden said. With all the realigning, Cal Poly might not be done moving just yet.
“This is not to say that in the future Cal Poly will not be moving in the (FBS) direction, that would have been a big step for us right now,” Glidden said. “If sometime in the future the institution wants to go in that direction, it certainly will have that opportunity. This is not the end of the conference shake ups.”