CEDAR CITY, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Southern Utah University is officially changing conferences in 2022.
The Western Athletic Conference announced it is adding five schools, including SUU, and will begin playing football in 2022 for the first time since 2012.
The Thunderbirds, who have been a part of the Big Sky Conference since 2012, will be joining the league, along with Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin from the Southland Conference.
The additions will create a 13-team conference that will be divided into two divisions for team sports other than football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. One division will consist of the Texas-based institutions including current WAC members Tarleton State University and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The other division will include Southern Utah along with Dixie State University, New Mexico State University, Grand Canyon University, California Baptist University, Seattle University and Utah Valley University.
The Thunderbirds will be joining the WAC ahead of the 2022-23 season, leaving the remainder of the current athletic season and the 2021-22 season to be played in the Big Sky Conference.
“The opportunity to become a member of the WAC is very exciting for us,” SUU Director of Athletics Debbie Corum said. “We believe that the future of SUU Athletics as a member of the WAC will provide exciting opportunities for our student-athletes, coaches and fans. It was an honor to be invited to join this group of institutions that possess a strong vision for the future and will challenge us to continue to grow as an athletic department and as an institution. The majority of our teams will be playing in divisions, which will make a positive impact on student-athlete welfare due to decreased travel time. Also, it gives us a chance to win divisional championships, which will help elevate every team competitively.”
“Change is always scary when you are leaving something as good as the Big Sky, but we are excited about the future in the WAC,” said SUU football coach Demario Warren. “We get an opportunity to compete against some great programs, expand our brand footprint, and open ourselves up for some closer non-conference FCS games.”
The five new members of the WAC, starting in 2022, will join Dixie State and Tarleton State as FCS football teams already part of the league and currently acting as independents. New Mexico State currently plays football at the FBS level as a member of the conference.
“I cannot overstate my level of excitement in making this expansion announcement,” said WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd, “The opportunity to bring five quality institutions into the conference, to bring football back under the WAC umbrella and at the same time significantly strengthen basketball and other conference sports is one that is easy to embrace.”
During their tenure in the Big Sky Conference, the Thunderbirds claimed seven team conference titles, including a football championship in both 2015 and 2017, and a number of Big Sky individual championships.
Prior to joining the Big Sky, the T-Birds were full-time members of the Summit League (2007-12), which evolved from the Mid-Continental Conference (1997-2007).
The Thunderbirds will be joining in-state rivals Utah Valley University and Dixie State University as members of the WAC. At one time or another, nearly every Division I institution in the state of Utah has been a full-time member of the Western Athletic Conference, with the exception of Weber State.