MOSCOW, Idaho – Football coaches aren’t the only ones smiling because Idaho is moving to the Western Athletic Conference.
“I think it is a really good shot in the arm for us,” Vandals women’s basketball coach Mike Divilbiss said. “We’re going from the 28th RPI conference last year to seven, eight or nine. We’re real excited about getting to compete at that level on a daily basis.”
Soccer and volleyball coaches also had positive responses on Monday during an informal social gathering of UI coaches.
The WAC extended an invitation on Friday that Idaho quickly accepted that will see the Vandals play in the WAC beginning in the fall of 2005. That means one more season of football in the Sun Belt Conference with the remaining sports playing in the Big West Conference.
All UI sports were scheduled to join the Sun Belt in 2005.
“The WAC is a real prominent conference. It’s going to be a real positive thing for us,” Vandals soccer coach Arby Busey said. “The WAC is west coast and I believe the best soccer in the country is played on the west coast.”
Volleyball is one of the few sports where the Big West is better than the WAC but UI associate head coach Ken Murphy expects that gap to narrow quickly.
“From a competitive standpoint it’s probably not quite at the level of the Big West,” he said. “But if you look at the fact that us, Utah State and New Mexico State are coming in and the teams they’re losing, that makes it a lot tougher.”
The Vandals were 18-11 during the regular season, and despite being 10-8 in the Big West, earned an invitation to the NCAA tournament. New Mexico State also was invited and Utah State was in two years ago. All three are leaving the Big West for the WAC, replacing Texas-El Paso, Tulsa, Rice and Southern Methodist.
Hawaii gives the WAC a team on par with Big West power Long Beach State.
“Because Hawaii is so strong they’re going to look at the next couple of teams,” Murphy said. “The difference is the WAC doesn’t have the next teams like Santa Barbara and Pacific but it has a whole bunch of teams in the top 50. This is the kind of conference that can get at least two or three teams in every year.”
The WAC is much stronger in women’s basketball. The Vandals were 22-7 last year and didn’t receive a post-season invitation.
Louisiana Tech of the WAC is a national power, much like Santa Barbara of the Big West. But last year, after UCSB and Idaho, the other eight teams in the Big West had a combined record of 12-57 heading into conference play.
“The balance top to bottom in the WAC is so much stronger … you’re playing real solid teams every night,” Divilbiss said. “This is a great chance to raise the level of your game. To be the best you have to beat the best.”
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