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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Column: Conference shake-up

Times are changing in college sports.

Texas A&M is moving to the Southeastern Conference, Syracuse is heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the conference landscape in major college sports will never be the same.

And now that change is starting to trickle down to the smaller conferences.

The Big West Conference – which UC Davis is a part of in the majority of its sports including basketball, baseball, softball and soccer – is going to be completely revamped over the next several seasons.

Starting next year Hawaii will become a member of the Big West, followed by San Diego State in 2014.

But just when it looked like UC Davis may find itself in a division that is on the rise, Pacific announced last week that it would be leaving the Big West in favor of the West Coast Conference at the start of the 2013-14 school year.

With the departure of the Big West’s only other Northern California team, UC Davis now finds itself nearly 300 miles away from its nearest conference foe — Cal Poly. That is the largest distance for any school in the conference other than Hawaii (which is forced to play far-off opposition for obvious reasons).

With such a wide gap between the Aggies and the almost exclusively Southern California teams in the Big West – six of the conference’s 10 teams come 2013 will play south of the Grapevine – the question is now: Should UC Davis follow the trend of other teams and find a new conference?

The Dempsey Report outlined potential processes for a UC Davis move to the Mountain West Conference or the Pacific 12 Conference.

With the current state of UC Davis athletics, however, the Aggies are simply not capable of making the transition to a conference of that high standard at this point in time.

So that leaves UC Davis with three viable options.

The first would be to follow the lead of Sacramento State and move to the Big Sky Conference.

UC Davis football will already be moving to the league starting next season, and a move to the Big Sky for all sports would reunite the Aggies in the same conference as their strongest and most historic rival: Sac State.

While Sac State would be an opponent close to home, the other members of the Big Sky stretch across several states – including Washington, Idaho and Montana – making travel highly expensive for teams in the conference.

Additionally, the Big Sky does not offer several sports UC Davis maintains, such as men’s soccer, softball and women’s water polo.

The second option is to follow Pacific to the WCC.

This would place UC Davis in a conference that contains four other Northern California teams, potentially allowing the Aggies to form new regional rivalries.

The WCC certainly features a higher level of competition than the Big West in certain sports, namely basketball where Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga are regular tournament teams, and the relatively moderate increase in the level of play could ultimately prompt UC Davis to elevate itself.

At the same time, the WCC does not facilitate track and field, softball or women’s water polo, which would leave three UC Davis teams in a precarious position. While there is a chance the Aggies could place these teams in new conferences, it would be a difficult task and could prove to be troublesome.

UC Davis also does not fit the mold of the schools in the WCC, which are all private colleges with relatively low enrollment.

With this in mind, it’s hard to imagine UC Davis transitioning to the WCC any time soon.

UC Davis’ final option is to remain in the Big West.

While it is true that UC Davis will not have any remaining nearby foes in the conference, there are several important benefits to sticking with the status quo.

The Big West fits UC Davis’ level of play fairly well in most sports. It is certainly true that the Aggies have not been particularly competitive in men’s basketball over the past few seasons, but the skill level of the teams atop the Big West is certainly one UC Davis could realistically reach in upcoming seasons.

Additionally, while the Big West is not known as a strong basketball conference, it is one of the stronger leagues in the nations in terms of both men’s soccer and baseball — two sports that UC Davis will be looking to excel in over the next few years.

And with the majority of UC Davis’ sports already supported by the Big West, it seems only logical for the Aggies to stick with their current conference for at least the foreseeable future.

With the current standing of conference realignment and the potential advantages of remaining in the Big West, it looks like UC Davis’ best option right now is to simply stay put.

 TREVOR CRAMER can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.

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