by Daniel Olsen
With the announcement that Southern Utah University will be moving to the WAC in the 2022-2023 season, it looks like the Beehive State will put more teams from Utah in a conference than any other one. With Dixie State, SUU and UVU becoming conference rivals as well as in-state foes, Weber State will be the lone team from the state in the Big Sky. Despite this, they will be fine, and there are three reasons why that is the case.
1. Football is an FCS Contender
If a team is winning, are they going to lose sleep over not having a conference rival in-state? The answer is no. Weber State has built a winning culture in football and it has shown in the results. Since Weber State coach Jay Hill became the football coach, they have made four postseason appearances. Hill is 5-4 in those games.
While Weber has come up short, they have had their chances. They came just one field goal shy of James Madison in the quarterfinals in 2017. The Dukes would become the runner-up that year. The Dukes are the only team to defeat the North Dakota State Bison in an FCS Championship in the last decade.
After powerhouse FCS teams James Madison and North Dakota State, Weber State looks like a solid team in that second tier. They represent the Big Sky, along with Montana, as some of the best FCS programs on the West Coast. As long as Coach Hill is calling the plays on the sidelines, look for Weber to do just fine in the FCS ranks.
2. Basketball has a successful history
While there aren’t a bunch of tournament wins or Weber State players who make the NBA, a few memorable moments stand out. One is the amount of memorable upsets they have attained in the NCAA tournament. In the 1990s, they recorded two upsets as a 14 seed, beating traditionally great teams in Michigan State (1995) and North Carolina (1999).
In recent years, one NBA star, who didn’t see as much postseason success with the Wildcats, is putting Ogden on the map. His name is Damian Lillard. The cover athlete for the NBA 2K21 video game is the face of the Portland Trailblazers franchise. He was the first player ever to participate in every event in an All-Star weekend.
Lillard was also the Rookie of the Year, a five-time NBA All-Star in a loaded Western Conference, and a First-Team All-NBA selection in 2018. Since 2014, he has helped his franchise win some memorable playoff series. With the game-winner over Houston he helped the Blazers win a playoff series for the first time in 14 years. He made a similar buzzer beater a couple years ago to knock the Oklahoma City Thunder out of the playoffs.
As the 6th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Lillard proved that you can find success out of a mid-major school. While not heavily recruited out of high school and not a star as a freshman, Lillard blossomed into a great athlete and killer outside shooter. When high school prospects hear about Weber State, they will not sleep on this school because Lillard put them on the map. This should help the Wildcats remain one of the top contenders in the Big Sky Conference.
Other teams have survived since leaving the conferences of fellow in-state rivals
For many decades, the Utes and Cougars played in the same conference. Over 50 years ago, the Aggies were also in the same conference as them. With realignment and creations of new conferences, the landscape of college sports has changes throughout the years. A decade ago, the University of Utah got the invite to the PAC-12. The Cougars decided to become an FBS Independent in football and compete in the WCC in other sports.
Utah State finally blossomed and found success in the Mountain West Conference. They had struggled before in Independence, the Sun Belt and the now extinct WAC and Big West. Of all three FBS programs competing in their own conferences, they haven’t skipped a beat. USU experienced their best decade of football since Merlin Olsen. The Utes have become contenders in the PAC-12 and won the South Division several times. BYU is starting to get back to winning football and basketball. These teams can still play each other in sports when occasion permits and build their brands in other conferences.
This will work out for all sides but it will not come without growing pains. The WAC is a step up from the Big Sky and Dixie State is making the jump to Division I sports. SUU will have to compete for the market in Southern Utah with a Dixie State team that competes in an area with better weather and closer proximity to bigger cities. Weber State will have to deal with longer travel for all games with no conference opponents in state. However, once these teams overcome these obstacles, they will find success in their respective sports where they have already been winning at a high rate.
Featured image courtesy The Herald Journal