Cal Poly may not be getting any new competition in one of its conferences, but it could soon be in another.
Despite an apparent invitation to a pending all-sports division about to be added within the larger umbrella of the Great West Football Conference, football-less Cal State Bakersfield will likely hold out and try to eventually join the Big West Conference in coming years, a school official said Tuesday.
Seventeen of Cal Poly’s 20 sports play in the Big West. Football, which belongs to the GWFC, is one of the exceptions.
“It’s no secret our desire is to be in the Big West,” said Kevin Gilmore, a CSUB assistant athletics director. “Everything we’re doing is moving toward making that happen.”
Gilmore added “as of right now” CSUB isn’t interested in the Great West, which is expected to announce the division as early as Thursday.
The division likely wouldn’t immediately have a direct impact on Cal Poly, nor its four other GWFC counterparts, because new Great West entrants almost certainly would be football-less, conference and school officials reiterated Tuesday.
Great West commissioner Ed Grom said Tuesday the conference has discussed the division with 11 schools. Although he wouldn’t identify them, various reports throughout the country over the past three weeks have pinpointed a geographically disparate cast of possibly interested parties.
The list includes Texas-Pan American, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Chicago State, Utah Valley State, Longwood (of Farmville, Va.), Seattle, Houston Baptist, South Dakota and North Dakota.
Of that bunch, only South Dakota and North Dakota, both in transition from Division II and GWFC rookies this season, play football.
Grom added that Savannah State and CSUB have been in discussions, as well.
Savannah State assistant athletics director Opio Mashariki said Tuesday that Savannah State (which lost in football 55-0 at Cal Poly in 2006) has identified a conference it’s interested in joining, but it isn’t the Great West. He declined to divulge the preferred conference.
Longwood athletics director Troy Austin and NJIT assistant athletics director Tim Camp each declined to comment Tuesday.
On a condition of anonymity, a sports information director at one of the rumored schools said the programs joining the Great West would likely hold their own news conferences upon a formal announcement Thursday.
Phone messages left for athletics administrators at all of the other aforementioned schools were not returned Tuesday.
Cal Poly athletics director Alison Cone, who emphasized Cal Poly is more than happy with its conference memberships as they are, said the new division “doesn’t impact football at all.”
But the grouping, which Grom said has been discussed since May, could further heighten and commercialize the four-year old GWFC.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt anything,” Cone said. “I hope (the independents) have a conference.”
A possible benefit of the Great West’s enhanced breadth and profile could be indirectly attracting a coveted sixth member to its Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) contingent, also comprised of UC Davis and Southern Utah.
Half a dozen teams are required by the FCS for a conference to be granted an automatic postseason bid.
In outlining CSUB’s reluctance to delve into the Great West, Gilmore praised the built-in, lower-division rivalries the school used to have with current members of the Big West, including Cal Poly.
“All of our former rivals are in the Big West,” he explained. “Our fans grew up watching them and we want to play them.”
Still, though, Gilmore clarified, there are no guarantees.
“Certainly we don’t expect to be let in (to the Big West) as a legacy,” he said. “Our membership would have to make the conference better, and we need to demonstrate that.”
Big West commissioner Dennis Farrell, who said he was notified of the pending Great West expansion Tuesday morning, validated Gilmore’s assessment.
“I don’t sense any great urgency on our board of directors to move forward with (CSUB) at this time,” Farrell said with regard to lifting an indefinite Big West membership moratorium put in place following the July 2007 admission of UC Davis.
Although the moratorium is subject to annual review, and CSUB could conceivably be admitted in the future, Farrell said it could be “prudent” for the school to consider the Great West as at least a “backup plan” while gathering success and notoriety.
Farrell said programs’ membership in the division would likely be transitory – simply due to the travel problems it could pose – while they looked for more regionally comfortable associations.
“Until they have (regionally better) invites in hand, they don’t really have any other option,” Farrell said, adding he’s under the impression the division “is being put together with the understanding that schools may come and go from there,” although it’s “still better than being independent.”
Grom suggested any such independent should seize an opportunity along the lines of the one the Great West is proposing.
“If something down the line is not a definite, and if I was in the shoes of one of those schools, (waiting) would be kind of like putting all your eggs in one basket,” Grom said. “We’ve seen it before, where sometimes plans don’t turn out the way you want them to.”
Of CSUB, which will be fully transitioned from Division II by 2010-11, Gilmore said “in an ideal world,” the school’s ascent into the Big West would mirror that of UC Davis, which prior to official membership scheduled Big West teams as if they were official counterparts, anyway.
Although most of CSUB’s 2008-09 schedules are yet to be released, last year’s men’s and women’s basketball slates would seem to point to such a relationship.
Last year, the Roadrunner men played Big West opponents nine times (Cal Poly once), while five of the women’s eight games against Big West foes (one of which was Cal Poly) were in a row.
Each program, though, faced Texas-Pan American and Utah Valley State, and the women also took on fellow Great West possibilities NJIT and Chicago State.
“For whatever reason, if things with the Big West weren’t what we wanted them to be, we’d certainly give (the Great West) a look,” Gilmore said of the “intriguing” division. “But our eyes are on the prize of membership in the Big West.”