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December 12, 2011

SDSU finalizes move to Big West

Just a few days after San Diego State announced its football-only move to the Big East, SDSU announced most of the rest of its sports will head to the Big West.

President Dr. Elliot Hirshman, Athletics Director Jim Sterk and Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell all held a press conference on campus on Monday afternoon to announce the accepted invitation.

"This is a historic day for the Big West Conference," Farrell said. "This is a day where our vision that we've had to elevate our conference's image as a national profile conference really has taken a major step forward."

SDSU is set to join Cal Poly, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge, Long Beach State, Pacific, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara and Hawaii (who will become a member in 2012-13) in the Big West Conference starting July 1, 2013.

All Aztec sports will become a part of the league eventually except for lacrosse, crew, indoor track and field and swimming and diving. The water polo team will jump to the Big West starting in 2012-13, while the men's soccer team is expected to make the switch from the Pac-12 to the Big West sometime in 2015.

"As we learned more about the Big West, we became more impressed," Hirshman said. "The conference offers us at San Diego State some unique opportunities given its geographic footprint in California. There will be less missed class time for our athletes and travel costs will be lower."

Sterk said the savings could be up to a "couple hundred thousand" dollars when the move is completed. He also said the increased exposure to parents, athletes and alumni in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas will help recruiting and the overall awareness of the school. And with the ESPN and Fox Sports TV deal that the conference has, the men's basketball program should get increased national coverage as well.

"The Big West is a great fit for San Diego State geographically, academically and athletically," Sterk said.

It's a huge gain for the baseball program in addition to the perks Sterk discussed at the press conference. Head coach Tony Gwynn called it an upgrade, said recruiting should spike up and said travel and scheduling should be much easier now.

"Baseball-wise, it just doesn't get much better; we've been elevated to one of the best conferences in the country," Gwynn said. "In baseball, California kids know all about two conferences: The Big West and the Pac-12. Going to the Big West kind of opens the door for us."

But this move will primarily come down to men's basketball. Even Farrell admitted that when he said, "The focus for the conference right now is for the sport of men's basketball, obviously."

The program at SDSU is now 43-5 in the last two seasons, is constantly selling out Viejas Arena, is getting brand-name recruits to show up and commit, and the idea of changing any of that has created quite the stir around Montezuma Mesa.

"I would have NEVER transferred to SDSU if they were in the Big West … I'm an Aztec but it's a terrible Bball conference," former Aztec Lorrenzo Wade tweeted.

"Can we please not go there Zo … Lol. Sensitive subject this whole big west talk," current SDSU forward Tim Shelton tweeted back.

Even guard James Rahon tweeted, "No Bueno" when a fan asked him about the move.

But head coach Steve Fisher said all of those qualms, and the ones expressed by fans, are based on "unfounded opinions." He said with the Big West set to move its conference slate to a 14-game schedule (rather than a 16-game one this season and an 18-game one next season when Hawaii joins), the Aztecs will have such a flexible and key non-conference schedule that should allow them to pick up an NCAA Tournament bid no matter what happens in the conference tournament.

"You play 30-plus games during the year, so my math tells me that half our season will be our own scheduling non-conference games," Fisher said.

That should result in a multiple-bid conference for the Big West, especially if other schools follow suit with a tougher non-conference slate.

"At least two, I would say," Farrell said when he was asked how many bids adding SDSU gets the league. "That certainly is our goal is to be a multiple-bid conference on an annual basis and to have our schools be in a position to pick up victories in the NCAA tournament."

Fisher has already started the non-conference schedule wheeling and dealing by agreeing to a home-and-home with Connecticut, which could begin next season. He said because of the increased money the program is expecting from football's move to the Big East, and because of the ESPN exposure, scheduling should become much easier and much more attractive.

"I do think that when you say, 'We can work with you, we can work with ESPN to get it on a national front,' that resonates and that will give us an opportunity I believe to attract teams we haven't had in the past be willing to say yes," Fisher said. "Starting with what Connecticut said that they would look forward to a home-and-home with us."

Sterk said USC, Arizona, California and other Big East schools could be and likely will be part of that out-of-conference schedule as well.

In all, despite some public worries, most within SDSU now feel things should be fine.

"With Steve Fisher's program, that's a gamechanger for us," Farrell said. "I believe that San Diego State's program will bring the type of leadership in that sport that raises the level of competition and the water level for all the other programs in our conference."


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