Artwork by: Eli Miranda
The plan has been two years in the making, but CSU Bakersfield will be officially say goodbye to the Western Athletic Conference on July 1 and join the Big West Conference. With this move, CSUB Athletics hopes that the added excitement and attention to conference games will help expand the Roadrunner sports brand.
“The Big West is the perfect fit for us and always has been,” CSUB Athletic Director Kenneth Siegfried said about the move. “First of all the footprint, all the schools are in a short distance with the exception being Hawaii. That helps with travel cost and minimizing the time outside of the classroom so our student-athletes can continue to do well academically. It also matches us up with longtime rivals at the Division 2 level.”
The Big West conference has been the home to some of the most notable competition in California universities for over 51 years and with the additions of CSUB and UC San Diego, the Conference will now expand to 11 teams in its rankings. Other Big West Conference teams:
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo Mustangs
California State University Long Beach University “Dirtbags” (baseball)/ Sharks
California State University Fullerton Titans
California State University Northridge Matadors
University of California, Davis Aggies
University of California, Irvine Anteaters
University of California, Santa Barbara Gauchos
University of California, Riverside Highlanders
University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors
Come July 1:
University of California, San Diego Tritons
California State University, Bakersfield Roadrunners
This move holds many benefits for Roadrunners athletics starting with the ease on the team’s travel time for away games. With the Big West housing nine other California opponents for the Roadrunners, this will allow for teams and supporters to commute to games within a reasonable driving distance. In the WAC, all away games were out of state which would mean long hours on the road making it difficult to properly rest before games.
The longest distance that the Roadrunners basketball teams would have to take for an away game in the WAC was Chicago, Illinois which is a flight of over six hours along. And with trips to states like New Mexico and Texas to follow just a few days later, energy levels in athletes would understandably take a hit from all the travel.
Whereas in the Big West the longest distance would be to the University of Hawaii in Manoa, Hawaii which is about a 5-and-a-half-hour flight from the LAX airport, while the rest of the opponents are only a few hours away by car or bus making the trips much easier on the student-athletes.
The ability for CSUB teams to be able to get to games at a fraction of the time will help the athletes get the proper rest they require more often so they can properly rehab between games. This will also allow for student athletes to spend more time in the classrooms as they won’t have to stay overnight after games as often as they did in the past.
This also proves fruitful for fans and supporters of CSUB athletics making it easier follow the Roadrunners on road games. With more fan support and with the new conference opponents being more recognizable to local fans it will draw more to the stands and allow the local community to reignite some old rivalries from CSUB’s past, like California State Fullerton or UC Davis, as well as potentially create new ones so the excitement of the games will continue to increase.
With the increase in excitement behind the teams, CSUB will then be able to utilize the final benefit of this move to this new conference, which is expanding the Roadrunners overall brand image to the public along with the help of the Big West’s new commissioner.
As it was announced on May 4, the Big West have found its new commissioner with the hiring of Mountain West associate commissioner Dan Butterly. Butterly will be the fifth commissioner in the conference’s 51 years of existence and will begin his new position starting at the beginning of June.
During his introductory press conference, Butterly stated that he hopes to help expand the brand of the Big West and its perception nationally by increasing the competition within the conference, or more specifically starting in men’s basketball where he helped the Mountain West grow from the 16 ranked conference to the tenth in just one year.
“It’s the three musketeers’ analogy, ‘all for one and one for all’. You have to work collectively to boost the profile and to boost the competitiveness and rankings of the conference,” Butterly said. “It doesn’t help if you have one team in the top 50, top 75, if the rest of the league is ranking 200 and below.”
Butterly “wants a conference of excellence” as Dr. Siegfried put it and his hopes are to help every team, including small markets, understand what it takes to grow their brand nationally to create a bigger national image for Big West sports and the easiest way to do that is though the NCAA men’s basketball tournament which is responsible for the majority of revenue for basketball-centered universities.
CSUB men’s basketball head coach Rod Barnes has expressed his excitement about the move and the opportunity to join the Big West next fall calling the conference one of parity. “From top to bottom I think it’s a competitive league,” coach Barnes said. “I think it’s a tougher league in a sense overall because I think just the depth of the league.”
The conference has had five different men’s basketball championship winners in the last six years, and the Roadrunners hope that with their returning experience they will be in that mix as well.
It is coach Barnes’ belief that the potential success in this new conference will in turn allow the Roadrunner brand to grow and attract more attention of local recruits which is something they were unable to do in the WAC.
“I think when we start to establish ourselves in the Big West, it’s really going to helping out here in the state,” Barnes said. “And I think whenever you can you want to work from the inside-out, but again because of our last conference being in the WAC we really worked from the outside in.”
It is the hope that sports will begin as planned, but with the news that was released on May 12 that CSUB will remain mostly online during the fall semester, there are no specifics right now of when fall sports will be allowed to begin.
Dr. Siegfried said that the conversation right now is still an ongoing one and the decision of whether fall sports will come back or now is still uncertain. But with the future set in the Big West it seems that CSUB athletic programs are exactly where they want to be.
This move will allow others a chance to look in on how CSUB ranks against other popular California universities, and put them in a position to have their programs to be compared properly. And the further expansion of the Roadrunner footprint in California is exactly what they have been missing to get more local athletes to commit. This move will finally show those potential recruits how good Roadrunners athletic programs really are.