UND accepted into WAC for baseballGRAND FORKS — When the University of North Dakota joined the Big Sky Conference, the move gave the school’s Division I athletic programs a permanent home.
By: Wayne Nelson, Forum News Service
GRAND FORKS — When the University of North Dakota joined the Big Sky Conference, the move gave the school’s Division I athletic programs a permanent home.
Baseball, however, was still on the street — searching for the comforts of home since the Big Sky does not sponsor the sport.
UND baseball no longer is homeless as the Western Athletic Conference accepted North Dakota as an affiliate baseball member Monday. UND and the remaining baseball schools in the Great West Conference — Utah Valley, Northern Colorado, Texas-Pan American and Chicago State — also have been accepted into the WAC.
Beginning next season, the WAC will have 10 baseball programs. The Great West programs will join these WAC teams already slated for next year: Cal State-Bakersfield, New Mexico State, Grand Canyon, Sacramento State and Seattle.
“This is huge for us,” said UND baseball coach Jeff Dodson. “I’m really thrilled for our program, the alumni and, more importantly, our players.
“Our kids are really excited for it. There is quite a bit of buzz for our future.”
UND joins a conference that has an automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament, meaning North Dakota has a chance for postseason play in 2014. The Great West did not have an automatic qualifier.
The new home also will help UND’s recruiting and scheduling.
“The WAC has been a pretty prestigious name,” Dodson said. “That’ll help us out in recruiting.”
UND was accepted as a Big Sky member in November of 2010. Nearly all of UND’s athletic programs had a permanent home when North Dakota joined the Big Sky. Baseball, however, was on the outside. North Dakota remained in the Great West but the league never was going to allow the baseball program to grow.
That is expected to change with the WAC.
The Summit League, which includes North Dakota State and South Dakota State, was one option for UND baseball. But that option never materialized.
“We had applied for the Summit but I never heard anything personally from them,” Dodson said.
Schedules for the 10-team WAC have not been made. Dodson, however, said one possibility focuses on a 27-game league schedule. Teams would play a three-game series each weekend.
“UND will be a great fit with our other baseball teams in the conference and we believe North Dakota will play a viable role in advancing WAC baseball in the future,” said league commissioner Jeff Hurd.
The league has seen a significant amount of change in recent years and will lose current baseball members Dallas Baptist, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, Texas State, UT Arlington and UTSA after this season.
The WAC’s announcement comes a week before UND’s opener. North Dakota opens next Monday at the Metrodome against Mount Marty College.
“It was a pretty good day,” Dodson said.