By Vincent Perez
Assistant Sports Editor
An overall buzz can be felt in the sports programs at CSU Bakersfield since the change from Division II to Division I in July 2010 and into the Western Athletic Conference in July 2013.
Since the change from D-II, CSUB athletics has received more media attention than ever before.
The men’s basketball program has faced top-25 opponents, made its debut in the NCAA tournament in 2016, and last season reached the National Invitational Tournament semifinals in the world-famous Madison Square Garden.
Those accomplishments would not have been done without jumping to D-I.
In recent years, the volleyball team has won two of the last four WAC Championships and the team faced No. 3 Stanford in the NCAA Tournament this season.
Cross-country athletes have competed at the NCAA West Regionals, and swimmers have competed at U.S. Nationals.
Some programs at CSUB could be suffering from jet lag on competition days, but with CSUB’s move to the Big West Conference in 2020, that could all be in the past.
CSUB President Horace Mitchell announced in a press conference in the Icardo Center, on Nov. 27, that effective July 1, 2020, the Roadrunners were invited to join the Big West Conference along with UC San Diego. Long Beach State, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, Cal State Fullerton, Cal Poly, UC Santa Barbara, CSU Northridge and the University of Hawaii are the institutions currently in the Big West.
Beach Volleyball is already a member of the Big West, and wrestling is a member of the Pac-12.
With the exception of Hawaii, all of the schools in the conference are only a few hours away.
This means road trips will be via bus rather than air.
The average trip in the WAC is 2,422 miles. It is only 814 miles in the Big West and only 302 miles, if Hawaii is excluded, according to gorunners.com.
According to gorunners.com, the travel expenses will be trimmed roughly $400,000 per year.
Also, once the move happens, the student-athletes will be able to spend more time in class.
Men’s Basketball Head Coach Rod Barnes said, “It’s somewhat of a fulfillment [to join the Big West Conference], we did it.” He continued, “To see this happen while I’m here is something really special to me.”
Barnes called the 2016 NCAA tournament qualification a highlight for the men’s basketball program. CSUB lost in Oklahoma City to Oklahoma University 82-68, yet Barnes is happy with the progress that the program has gone through since his tenure began in 2011, when CSUB became an independent Division I university.
Recent ranked opponents have faced the Roadrunners and while they have beaten CSUB, the lessons learned are there.
Barnes called the game against No. 25 UCLA on Nov. 29 a stepping stone.
“When you talk about UCLA, you talk about one of the most recognized basketball programs in the world. To have the opportunity to go play them is something we’ve been working on and it’s a good thing for us.”
Men’s Basketball Director of Operations, Brandon Barnes played for CSUB from 2010-2014. Barnes, son of Rod Barnes, said, “I played in the WAC, so obviously there’s a pride for being in the WAC.” Barnes spoke highly of the men’s program.
The Division I change offered more national exposure, and so will the Big West Conference.
“They feel ready. It’s exciting to play in places you see on TV. To play against guys maybe you were overlooked by who are NBA prospects, and to compete against them is exciting,” said Barnes.
Director of Volleyball Giovana Melo, who is in her fourth year at CSUB, said at the Nov. 27 press conference she was grateful for her student athletes’ schedules.
“I think being able to play around California is a big thing,” said Melo. “For every sport, we have grown and shown that we are capable to be a good institution.”
Melo is thankful for the opportunity to be a coach at CSUB. She said, “I am very excited for this step forward that we will take in the Big West.”
The CSUB men will compete in the Big West in basketball, soccer, baseball and track and field in 2020.
The women will compete in the Big West in basketball, cross-country, softball, golf, soccer, track and field, volleyball and beach volleyball.