Eastern Washington University’s officials reacted favorably to Tuesday’s announcement that the University of California-Davis and Cal Poly have accepted invitations to join the Big Sky Conference as affiliate members in football.
“I’m really excited for the league,” EWU athletics director Bill Chaves said of the BSC’s decision to expand. “With all of the conference affiliation shuffling and other issues that has been going on around the country, I think it was paramount that we take a hard look at what’s going on in the Big Sky and, for lack of a better term, play offense instead of defense.”
“I like the idea,” said EWU football coach Beau Baldwin. “To me is strengthens our conference and I like the idea of having the opportunity to play a couple of more games in California, just from a recruiting standpoint.”
According to Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton, the league’s two California-based newcomers – both of whom are members of the Division I Big West Conference in the majority of sports, but compete in football at the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision level in the Great West Conference – were approved by the BSC’s Presidents’ Council late last week after the group agreed to an exception to league rules that require all member schools to take part in the same 14 sports.
“The Big Sky is recognized as one of the top Football Championship Subdivision conferences in the nation,” Fullerton said in a statement released by the league office in Ogden, Utah. “The addition of two great institutions like Cal Poly and UC Davis gives us more depth to compete for additional playoff berths and enhances our profile throughout California.”
Fullerton added the Big Sky worked in cooperation with the Big West in planning the expansion and giving its two football-playing members a league in which to compete for an automatic FCS playoff berth.
The addition of UC Davis and Cal Poly will bring the number of football teams in the 48-year-old Big Sky Conference to 11, and according to Fullerton, sets the stage for additional expansion that could eventually produce a 12-team league with two six-team divisions.
“We’re going to look at all options,” Fullerton said. “The landscape of college athletics has shifted even more this summer, and with the great diversity of funding and budgets at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, the role of the FCS may become even greater in the coming years.
“The FCS could become the home of many institutions. We feel like the additions of UC Davis and Cal Poly puts us in front of that momentum.”
Chaves noted that EWU is already scheduled to play Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif., next fall and then entertain the Mustangs in Cheney in 2012. And he said he does not expect Tuesday’s expansion announcement to affect either game.
“I can’t envision (expansion) things being finalized until probably 2012 or 2013,” Chaves said.
Eastern has played Cal Poly four times dating back to 1994 and has split the series. The Eagles have never played UC Davis.
“We’re always in conversations with such folks as Davis,” said Chaves, “because it would make sense geographically – which is another thing that makes the addition of them and Cal Poly such a good fit.”
Cal Poly advanced to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs in 2005, winning a first-round game at Montana. And the Mustangs, who play their home games in 11,075-seat Alex G. Spanos Stadium, also qualified for the FCS playoffs in 2008, when they were eliminated by Weber State in the first round.
UC Davis became an FCS member in 2007 , but qualified for the NCAA Division II playoffs 18 times and posted 37 consecutive winning seasons from 1970-2006. The Aggies play in Aggie Stadium, which seats 10,849.