It was rumored earlier in the offseason that UC Davis was being considered for one of three spots in the Western Athletic Conference, vacated by Fresno State, Nevada and Boise State.
This conference leap never materialized, but the Aggies will nonetheless begin the 2012 season with slightly different scenery.
After accepting an invitation to join the Big Sky conference, beginning in 2012, the Aggies are one step closer to a possible move to the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision.
Doug Fullerton, commissioner of the Big Sky conference, extended the invitation to UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, who accepted on behalf of the university.
“UC Davis is a top-tier university in so many ways. Competing in the Big Sky Conference will bring even more recognition and excitement to our university and its Intercollegiate Athletics Program.”
The move in conferences is expected to be beneficial athletically, as well as financially and scholastically.
With all Big Sky teams in eight western states, student-athletes will miss fewer days of classes.
In addition, travel expenses are expected to decrease with the elimination of road trips to the east and southeast to face opponents in the Great West.
Since 2007 when UC Davis moved up to Division I, it has played games in Massachusetts, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Texas, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
“The Big Sky offers great competition and it also eliminates the need to travel across multiple time zones,” said UC Davis athletic director Greg Warzecka. “Not only will that help our program contain costs, but it will help our team be more ready for the games.”
The Aggies will likely need the added rest, as the conference is a significant upgrade in competition and talent-level.
Statistically speaking, Big Sky is one of the most competitive Division I-AA conferences in the West, as three of its teams were ranked in the Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 as of Week 3 of this season.
It also counts three FCS national champions among its members – Montana twice – since the FCS began playing national championship games.
Additionally, the Aggies will benefit from the conference champion’s automatic play-off bid for the 20-team FCS championship – an opportunity they have not had as members of the Great West.
This is a great direction for our football program,” said coach Bob Biggs. “We look forward to building regional rivalries where postseason consideration could be on the line.”
The regional competition seemed to be a motivating factor in the selection of UC Davis to join the conference.
“The Big Sky is recognized as one of the top Football Championship Subdivision conferences in the nation,” said Doug Fullerton, the conference commissioner. “The addition of two great institutions like Cal Poly and UC Davis gives us more depth to compete for additional playoff berths and enhances our profile throughout California.
“This is a great fit for both institutions and the Big Sky Conference,” Fullerton added. “We are bringing in two strong western FCS programs.”
The change will not necessarily be entirely foreign to the Aggies, as UC Davis faces three Big Sky teams on the schedule this year in Portland State, Weber State and Sacramento State.
When the Aggies join the league, the hotly contested rivalry game, the “Causeway Classic,” will be a conference game for the first time in nearly two decades.
The move in 2012 will end the Aggies’ eight-year affiliation with the Great West, conference they have called home for the past six years.
“The Great West has been a wonderful home…and we’ve built some lasting memories, including two league titles,” Warzecka said. “It has allowed us to play for conference championships, our players to earn individual recognition and the Aggies to continue or renew long-standing rivalries.
“This is a move, however, that is best for our institution.”
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