Oct. 18, 2002
LOGAN, Utah - Utah State University has accepted an invitation for its athletics teams to become members of the Sun Belt Conference it was announced on Friday by University President Dr. Kermit L. Hall and Director of Athletics Rance Pugmire. The invitation was extended by University of North Texas President Dr. Norval Pohl, who serves as the chair of the Sun Belt Conference executive committee.
The Aggie football team will begin competing in the league in the fall of 2003, while the remainder of the University's varsity programs, with the exception of women's gymnastics, will enter competition in the 2005-06 academic year. The women's gymnastics program will continue to compete in the Western Gymnastics Conference.
Utah State fields teams in 16 different sports including seven men's sports of basketball, cross country, football, golf, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, and tennis and nine women's sports of cross country, gymnastics, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, soccer, softball, tennis, and volleyball (women's basketball will begin play in 2003-04).
The Sun Belt Conference offers championships in all of those sports except gymnastics as well as sponsoring baseball, women's golf and women's swimming and diving.
"The University is taking a major step forward in finding a competitive home for football, building national visibility and establishing with other institutions in the west, its future in Division I athletics," Hall said. "We believe that it is imperative to establish our competitive quality and given the changes in the NCAA our actions in joining the Sun Belt is the very best opportunity to do so."
"Finally. This (being an independent) has been a long two years," Pugmire said. "I cannot credit Dr. Hall enough and now coach Dennehy and his staff will have a chance when it comes to recruiting.
"Every time we learn something more about the Sun Belt we are pleasantly surprised," Pugmire added. "The institutions are really working with each other to reach a common goal. Wright's leadership is very apparent and we are excited about our new affiliation."
The Sun Belt Conference, which is based in New Orleans, La., membership includes University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Arkansas State University, University of Denver, Florida International University, University of Idaho, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of Louisiana at Monroe, Middle Tennessee State University, New Mexico State University, University of New Orleans, University of North Texas, University of South Alabama, and Western Kentucky University.
Of those institutions, the football-playing schools include Arkansas State, Idaho, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Middle Tennessee, New Mexico State, and North Texas. Idaho and Louisiana-Monroe are football-only members.
"This is a tribute to our member institutions coming together, continuing to build the conference for the future," said Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Wright Waters. "We are attracting other institutions that have a common commitment to excellence in academics and athletics. We are very honored to extend the invitation of membership to Utah State.
"We continue to see the progress the league has made in recent years, and that is a direct result of the commitment made by our chief executive officers, our athletic directors, our coaches and other staffers," Waters said. "The previous expansion of the league in 1999 (which included Middle Tennessee, New Mexico State and North Texas), the addition of football sponsorship, the creation of the New Orleans Bowl and a new comprehensive ESPN television agreement are proof that the conference has made tremendous strides. Our campus administrators have done well in positioning the Sun Belt for the future."
USU has been a longtime member of the Big West Conference competing in that league since 1978. The league stopped sponsoring football after the 2000 season and the Aggies have competed as an independent in football for the past two seasons. USU's other sports programs have continued to compete in the Big West Conference, with two exceptions in indoor track and field (Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) and gymnastics (Western Gymnastics Championship). The league never sponsored indoor track and field and stopped sponsoring gymnastics after 2001.
In its 25 years of Big West Conference membership, Utah State has produced 34 conference team championships, including five in football. In the last eight years USU has won 21 league titles in seven different sports, including four in basketball, one in men's cross country, two in football, five in men's outdoor track, one in women's cross country, three in gymnastics, and five in women's track.
USU's success has not been limited to the playing fields as the Aggies have annually been among the conference leaders in academic all-conference selections and last year produced a conference-best 60 academic all-Big West selections and 89 overall, including gymnastics and indoor track.
Utah State has been a division I-A football playing school in each of its 104 seasons of competition. USU joined the Mountain States Conference in 1938, which evolved into the Skyline Conference until 1961. USU played as a football independent from 1962-77 when the Aggies became members of the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, which changed its name to the Big West Conference in 1988. USU became the first non-California member of the conference when it was granted PCAA membership on Sept. 10, 1977.
USU's basketball team played in the Rocky Mountain Conference from 1918-1937 before playing as an independent until joining the PCAA/Big West in 1979.
Utah State University/Sun Belt Conference Information
USU Conference History (Football)
1938-1961 Mountain States/Skyline
1978-2000 PCAA/Big West
USU Conference History (Basketball)
1918-37 Rocky Mountain
1938-62 Mountain States
1979-pres. PCAA/Big West
USU's Big West Conference
Basketball (5) - 1980, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2002
(Basketball won league tournament in 1998, 2000, 2001)
Cross Country (3) - 1992, 1993, 1994
Football (5) - 1979, 1980, 1994, 1997, 1998
Track (6) - 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999
Wrestling (2) - 1978, 1979
Cross Country (1) - 1998
Gymnastics (4) - 1992, 1996, 1998, 2001
Softball (1) - 1993
Track (7) - 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999
USU Football Conference Championships
Mountain States/Skyline - 1946, 1960, 1961
PCAA/Big West - 1978, 1979, 1993, 1996, 1997
USU's National Championships (3)
Volleyball - 1978 (AIAW)
Softball - 1980 (AIAW)
Softball - 1981 (AIAW)
Sun Belt Conference Institutions
Arkansas Little Rock
Idaho (Football Onlly)
Louisiana-Monroe (Football Only)
New Mexico State
Sun Belt Conference Sports Offered (18)
Indoor Track and Field
Outdoor Track and Field
(USU sponsors all but baseball)
Swimming and Diving
Indoor Track and Field
Outdoor Track and Field
(USU sponsors all but Swimming and Diving)
(USU also sponsors Gymnastics)
Football Playing Sun Belt Conf. Members
New Mexico State
Division I-A Institutional Requirements
* 200 Full Athletic Grants
* Host 5 I-A Home Games
* Average 15,000 at Home Games
* Sponsor 16 Sports
* Must give 90% of 85 Football Grants/Year (two-year average)
I-A Conference Requirements
* 8 Full-Time I-A Members
(playing football, men's basketball and three women's team sports)
USU vs. The Sun Belt (Football)
* USU has played 65 games against current members of the Sun Belt Conference with three games scheduled for later this year against Louisiana-Monroe (Oct. 26), New Mexico State (Nov. 9), and Middle Tennessee (Nov. 30).
* USU's 65 games against current Sun Belt Conference teams are its fourth most against any conference, as the Aggies entered 2002 with 345 matchups against current Mountain West Conference teams, 92 vs. Big Sky and 80 vs. Western Athletic Conference schools.
* Since 1990, USU has played 34 football games against current members of the MWC and WAC and 26 vs. current Sun Belt members.
Sun Belt School (Football) Series Last Meeting Arkansas State USU leads 2-1-0 USU 44-31 in 2000 Idaho USU leads 14-13-2 USU 31-14 in 2000 Louisiana-Lafayette Tied 1-1-0 ULL 27-25 in 1994 New Mexico State USU leads 22-4-0 USU 44-37 in 2000 North Texas USU leads 4-1-0 USU 17-12 in 2000 Louisiana-Monroe N/A First meeting will be Oct. 26, 2002 Middle Tennessee N/A First meeting will be Nov. 30, 2002 Totals USU leads 43-20-2USU Football Bowl Games
1946 Raisin Bowl
1947 Grape Bowl
1960 Sun Bowl
1961 Gotham Bowl
1993 Las Vegas Bowl
1997 Humanitarian Bowl
USU Football Note-able * In 2001 USU set a season attendance average record of 21,784 without the benefit of playing Utah or BYU in Logan. In 2000, USU averaged 19,910 fans per home game for what is presently the fourth best average in school history. * Through three home games this year, USU is averaging 25,776 fans per game. * USU has produced a third-team All-America in each of the last two years in all-purpose back Emmett White in 2000 and wide receiver Kevin Curtis in 2001. * Recent football facilities improvements include a 95-yard indoor practice field built in 1998, lights in the football stadium (1993), chairback seats on the west side (1997), new scoreboards and sound system (1999), and aluminum bleachers replacing wooden bleachers on the east side (2000 and 2001). * In its last 11 years of play in the Big West Conference (1990-2000), USU tied for first place three times, second four times, and third two times. * Football alumni include 1961 Outland Trophy Winner Merlin Olsen, consensus All-American Phil Olsen, NFL Pro Bowl selections Cornell Green, Rulon Jones, Greg Kragen, MacArthur Lane, Carl Mulleneaux, Merlin Olsen, Len Rohde and Jim Turner. * Current NFL players include Johndale Carty (Atlanta Falcons) and Micah Knorr (Dallas Cowboys). * Former USU coaches presently in the NFL include Brian Billick, head coach of the Baltimore Raves, who was USU's offensive coordinator from 1986-88, Al Saunders, the offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs, who was at USU from 1973-75 and Detroit Lions quarterback coach Jim Zorn, who was at USU in 1995 and 1996 among others. * Three of USU's top five passing games in school history were recorded in the first two years of the Mick Dennehy era (2000-present) as well as five of the top 12 total offense games.
Utah State University Athletics 2001-02 Year In Review
Utah State University has a long standing tradition of success both on the fields of play and in the classroom. Individual and team honors have become commonplace at the school and that success continues today.
In 2001-02, Utah State added two more Big West Conference team championships to its coffers with league championships in basketball and track. Individually Brett Guymon was the league's track athlete of the year, eight Aggies were named first-team all-conference and another eight were individual league champions. Stew Morrill (basketball) and Gregg Gensel (track) were named conference coaches of the year in their respective sports.
In addition, the Aggies once again led the Big West in all-academic honorees in 2001-02 with 60. In all, USU had 89 individuals earn academic all-conference accolades with additional selections in indoor track (Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) and gymnastics (Western Conference). USU produced a school record 135 student-athletes, trainers, and managers who were named Joe E. Whitesides scholar-athletes.
The Aggie football program was honored for being one of 25 schools in the nation to post a 70 percent graduation rate as USU graduated 79 percent of its players in the study's time frame.
Women's basketball was reinstated after a 15-year absence and will begin play in 2003-04.
The program improved its facilities with the addition of a state of the art video/scoreboard in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, new scoreboards at the soccer and softball venues and a new soccer field. USU also replaced wooden bleachers in the football stadium with aluminum bleachers.
USU's basketball team continues to be one of the elite in the conference winning the league championship and posting its fifth 20-win season in the last six years. After playing in two straight NCAA Tournaments, USU played in the NIT in 2002.
The cross country and track teams had success both in the conference and nationally as the cross country team finished second at the league meet, while the track team captured another Big West title. Brett Guymon earned league track athlete of the year honors and finished fourth in the nation in the 400-meter hurdles.
USU's football team faced one of the more difficult schedules in the country in 2001, playing four ranked teams and five that went to bowl games. For the second straight year, a USU player led the country in a statistical category.
The Aggie golf team finished ninth at the league meet, while the tennis team tied for fifth after posting several big wins during the year.
Cross Country and Track teams performed well with the cross country team recording a top-four finish at the Big West Championships for the seventh time in the last eight years with a fourth-place finish this year. Its performance earned the team another trip the NCAA regionals. The track team also placed fourth at the league meet after finishing first or second in each of the previous nine years.
The gymnastics team finished third in the Western Gymnastics Conference and advanced to the NCAA Regionals for the 24th time in 25 years. The Aggie soccer team completed its sixth season of competition and tied for eighth in the league with a shutout victory against the conference champions to its credit.
USU's softball team entered a new era with a three-time All-America player taking over the coaching reins. USU got through its first year under the new head coach by tying for sixth in the always tough Big West Conference.
USU's tennis team tied for fifth at the league meet and two players earned some sort of all-Big West Conference mention for their efforts on the court.
The volleyball team posted another 20-win season and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year. And for the second straight year won its opening game in the tournament to reach the second round.
USU 2001-02 Year in Review
Men's Sports Overall Conf. Postseason Basketball 23-8 t1st NIT Cross Country - 2nd t7th Regionals Football 4-7 - - Golf - 9th - Indoor Track - 7th* - Outdoor Track - 1st 41st Tennis 7-13 t5th -* - Mountain Pacific Sports Federation # - Western Gymnastics Conference
Women's Sports Overall Conf. Postseason Cross Country - 4th 9th Regionals Gymnastics 7-20 3rd# 6th Regionals Indoor Track - 7th* - Outdoor Track - 4th - Soccer 6-11-1 t8th - Softball 12-44 t6th - Tennis 7-9 t5th - Volleyball 20-11 4th Second Round
Utah State University Athletics Program Notable
Basketball Has produced five 20-win seasons in the last six years and six of the last eight seasons. Played in the NCAA Tournament in 1998, 2000 and 2001, while participating in the NIT in 1995 and 2002. USU won Big West Conference regular season championships in 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, and 2002 and claimed the league tournament title in 1998, 2000 and 2001.
Cross Country Has finished first or second in the Big West in nine of the last 10 years with three league titles from 1993-95.
Football Played for the Big West Championship in 2000, its last year in the conference before going independent. Under current head coach Mick Dennehy, who took over the team ahed of the 2000 season, USU has produced the first and fourth best season attendance marks in school history and needs to average 15,797 fans in its last two games for a new school mark.
Golf Best finish at the conference meet was fourth in 1997. Track and Field Outdoor track has won six conference titles in the last nine years, while indoor track competes in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and has finished among the top four in three of the last four years. USU has had seven individuals finish among the top four in the NCAA in the last five years including national runner-up finishes by three different athletes.
Tennis USU's tennis has tied for fifth at the league championships in each of the last three years after placing ninth in the previous three years.
Cross Country Claimed the Big West title in 1998 and has finished among the top four at the conference meet in seven of the last eight years.
Gymnastics The Aggies have advanced to postseason competition in 24 of the last 25 years. Has won four conference championships, including the 2001 Big West Championship. The Big West dropped gymnastics after the 2001 season and the Aggies finished third in the Western Gymnastics Conference last year.
Track and Field This program has been a dominant force in the league winning seven straight outdoor championships from 1993-99 and finishing second in 2000 and 2001 before placing fourth last year.
Soccer Started in 1996, the soccer team has shown improvement every year. Last year the Aggies handed league champion Cal State Fullerton its only conference loss.
Softball Owns two of USU's three national championships as the Aggies won AIAW national titles in 1980 and 1981. USU won the Big West title in 1993, but has not finished higher than sixth in the league in the last six years.
Tennis Posted its best conference finishes in the last two years by tying for fifth each season.
Volleyball Has advanced to the NCAA Tournament second round in each of the last two years and has been ranked in the top 25 both years as well.
Sun Belt Conference History
As it closes in on three decades of proven excellence in its academic achievements and athletic endeavors, the Sun Belt Conference continues to set tremendous standards for its future as a Division I-A organization.
The Sun Belt Conference embarks on its 27th season of competition in 2002-03, and does so as one of only 11 I-A conferences, as the league began sponsorship of football for the first time in 2001.
Sun Belt members institutions include, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Arkansas State University, the University of Denver, Florida International University, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Middle Tennessee State University, New Mexico State University, the University of New Orleans, the University of North Texas, the University of South Alabama and Western Kentucky University. The University of Idaho and the University of Louisiana at Monroe hold football memberships with the Sun Belt, forming a seven-team gridiron league along with Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Middle Tennessee, New Mexico State and North Texas.
The Sun Belt Conference football champion plays annually in the New Orleans Bowl against an opponent from Conference USA. The New Orleans Bowl, the first contest of the 2002-03 bowl season, will be played December 17 at the Louisiana Superdome and be televised live nationally on ESPN 2.
The addition of Sun Belt football also coincided with the league's commitment to providing increased athletic opportunities for its member institutions and their student-athletes in other sports. In recent years, the Conference has also added softball, women's soccer, and women's swimming and diving to its list of sponsored championships. In fact, the Sun Belt Conference has increased women's participation by 69.3 percent in the last two years alone.
The Sun Belt Conference sponsors 18 sports, eight for men and 10 for women. The men's sports include baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, tennis, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field. The women's sports are basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, and volleyball.
Since its formation in 1976, the Sun Belt Conference has been innovative and progressive in its thinking. In a move unprecedented in the annals of NCAA Division I, the Sun Belt merged with the American South Conference in 1991, producing one of the nation's largest Division I leagues.
The Sun Belt boasts a rich tradition in the sport of men's basketball throughout its history. Not only did the Sun Belt send a team to the NCAA Final Four in its first-year of play, UNC Charlotte in 1977, the league became known as an innovator in its early stages, pioneering the shot clock and three-point field goal, standards which are followed throughout college basketball today.
Furthermore, the Sun Belt was the first conference to sign a long-term contract with ESPN in 1979, and has the longest running broadcast relationship with the network of any conference, 24 consecutive years. Since ESPN's inception, the network has televised every Sun Belt Men's Basketball Tournament final since 1980, and that relationship will continue as the league just inked an extension with ESPN through the 2005-06 season.
On the court itself, the Sun Belt has enjoyed enormous success. Overall, current Sun Belt teams have participated in 72 NCAA Tournament games and 71 contests in the National Invitation Tournament. Western Kentucky and New Mexico State have advanced to the NCAA Final Fours, while Arkansas-Little Rock, Louisiana-Lafayette and Western Kentucky have also participated in the NIT Final Four.
Sun Belt members have also made tremendous strides in women's basketball as well. Western Kentucky has a longstanding history of NCAA Tournament appearances, making three trips to the Women's Final Four (1985, 1986, 1992), and finishing as the national runner-up in 1992.
Florida International has become an NCAA Tournament regular in recent years, including advancing to the second round in 2002, and Denver made its first-ever NCAA appearance in 2001. New Orleans and Arkansas State have excelled as well, winning the National Women's Invitational Tournament in 1983 and 1993, respectively.
In 2001, six Sun Belt women's basketball teams participated in national postseason tournament action, including four teams in the Women's NIT: Florida International, Middle Tennessee, North Texas and Western Kentucky, which advanced into the event's quarterfinals.
In baseball, the Sun Belt annually ranks among the nation's top 10 conferences, and in 2002, the league placed four teams into the NCAA Tournament: South Alabama, Louisiana-Lafayette, New Mexico State and Florida International. In the four years of the new NCAA Baseball Tournament format, Sun Belt teams have won three NCAA Regionals to advance to the Super Regional round. In 2000, when five current Sun Belt teams advanced to the national tournament, Louisiana-Lafayette made it to the NCAA College World Series, where the Ragin' Cajuns finished third.
In recent years, the Sun Belt has consistently ranked among the top 10 leagues according to the NCAA Ratings Percentage Index, and rated as high as third in 1997 and fifth in 2002. New Orleans advanced to the 1984 NCAA College World Series, and, all told, current Sun Belt teams sport 57 NCAA Division I postseason appearances in baseball.
The Sun Belt has also displayed athletic excellence in other sports. South Alabama's David Kimani was a three-time NCAA Division I national champion in 1999-2000, winning the cross country national title and taking the 3,000- and 5,000-meters at the NCAA Indoor Track Championships, the first time the 3,000 and 5,000 have ever been won by the same individual in the national meet.
Arkansas-Little Rock's Dawn Williams-Sewer was the 1996 NCAA national champion in the indoor 800-meter run, while Western Kentucky's Sean Dollman was the 1991 NCAA national champion in cross country and the 1992 NCAA outdoor 10,000 meters national champion. UL Lafayette's Ndabe Mdhlongwa won the 1995 NCAA outdoor triple jump.
Arkansas State boasts a long list of track and field All-Americans and Olympians, such as Earl Bell and Al Joyner, as well as 1998 American champion pole vaulters Kellie Suttle and Jeff Hartwig, the current American men's record holder. UL Lafayette's Hollis Conway is the American Collegiate record holder in the men's outdoor high jump.
In men's golf, the Sun Belt annually advances multiple teams into the NCAA Tournament including two squads, South Alabama and Arkansas State, in 2002, and three teams in 2001. In women's golf, New Mexico State is a perennial top-10 program that finished ninth at the 2001 NCAA Championships.
In women's tennis, South Alabama made history by advancing to the national semifinals of the NCAA Team Championships in 2000.
In men's tennis, South Alabama annually ranks among the nation's elite, and in 2000, five current Sun Belt teams advanced into the NCAA Championships: Arkansas-Little Rock, Louisiana-Lafayette, Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State and South Alabama.
In one of the Sun Belt's newest sponsored-sports, softball, the league already boasts a nationally-prominent program in Louisiana-Lafayette, as well as a Florida International program that reached the national rankings in 2001. UL Lafayette has appeared in 12 NCAA Tournaments, and the Lady Cajuns advanced to the NCAA Softball College World Series in 1993, 1995, and 1996, finishing third in the 1993 event. In 2002, UL Lafayette served as a host to an NCAA Softball Regional.
In addition to its athletic accomplishments, the Sun Belt Conference aggressively promotes academics and sportsmanship. The Postgraduate Scholarship, Conference Medallion, Academic Honor Roll and Commissioner's All-Academic List honor outstanding work in the classroom by the league's student-athletes. The Conference also awards a Male and Female Student-Athlete of the Year honor and numerous Sportsmanship Awards to the league's student-athletes who exemplify outstanding character and community service.
The Sun Belt Conference is led by Commissioner Wright Waters, now in his fourth full year as commissioner. He is the fourth Sun Belt commissioner, following Vic Bubas (1976-90), Jim Lessig (1990-91) and Craig Thompson (1991-98). The Sun Belt all-sports award, the Vic Bubas Cup, is named after the founding commissioner of the league.
The Sun Belt is headquartered in downtown New Orleans, moving there in 2000 after a nine-year stay in suburban Metairie, La. The Conference office moved to Louisiana in 1991 from Tampa, Fla., the Sun Belt's home since 1977. The original Sun Belt office was located in Charlotte, N.C, during the 1976-77 academic year.
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