For those of you who recently began following UCSB athletics, it is important to know that the conference landscape is much different than it used to be. While recent changes to the Big West’s makeup have not been as dramatic as the recent shakeup in the football-driven Big East and Atlantic Coast conferences, they have altered the direction our league is heading.
After the 2004- 05 season, Idaho and Utah State left the Big West to join the Western Athletic Conference, ditching a league that did not sponsor football for one that did. With the addition of UC Davis at the beginning of this year, the Big West now has nine members, all of whom hail from California. Odd numbers are terrible, when it comes to making league schedules, so what school should the conference’s officials look at to increase the league to a nice round 10?
Cal State Bakersfield has already expressed interest in joining the Big West whenever it is ready to accept a new member. The Roadrunners left the California Collegiate Athletic Association after last year, the same conference that UC Riverside and UC Davis – two of the league’s newest additions – were in before jumping ship. The Roadrunners are well into their transfer to Division I, and the men’s basketball team alone is facing seven of the league’s nine members this season. CSUB is much more appealing than any other school in the CCAA, and it is doubtful that a team would leave the financial rewards of a football conference in the WAC to come to the Big West.
This all means Bako looks to be the early favorite when the Big West comes around to looking for a new member. My interpretation: disaster. One of my earliest memories is when my mom and I were driving through Bakersfield when I was around four and I called it a “burning wasteland.” Luckily, I’ve never made the trek back to the dreaded place, but by all accounts my description was pretty accurate. I was a pretty smart kid.
I remember back in the day when UC Riverside made the transition from Division II to the Big West. I lived minutes from the campus and was a huge fan of the Highlanders’ 1995 men’s basketball team that blew a huge lead before losing in the national championship game. Despite these fabulous childhood memories, I thought it was a joke when UCR went to Division I. This is a school that had much poorer facilities than most high schools when they joined the Big West in 2001, and it hasn’t changed much.
When Fox Sports Net was going to broadcast a recent Highlander men’s basketball game, the television crew told the athletic department that all the fans had to sit in a single section to give the impression that people actually gave a crap about the team. Lame. The men’s soccer team unveiled a “new” field this year, yet it still lacks even a simple phone line, preventing schools such as UCSB from having radio crews when they play at UCR.
Yes, Riverside has emerged as a power in women’s basketball, and its baseball team has impressed us as one of the best conferences in the country. But the road in other sports looks bleak, mainly due to dreadful facilities and an apathetic fan base. So if Bakersfield is terrible and Riverside has no future, what is the Big West to do? I understand the desire to build the conference’s reputation, but adding schools like UCR and CSUB brings the conference’s status down a notch. When Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge aren’t the worst athletic schools in the conference, I see that as a huge red flag.
Please, please, please, Big West officials, don’t further degrade the Big West. Kick out Riverside and keep Bako out of my sight. Eight is just as good a number as 10.