Southern Utah University gets formal invitation to Western Athletic Conference

ST. GEORGE — Dixie State may not be the new kids on the block in the Western Athletic Conference for long. That title may soon go to the school a little farther north in Cedar City: Southern Utah University.

The Thunderbirds have officially received an offer to move from the Big Sky Conference to the WAC. No decision has been made about a potential transition, the school said in a statement.

“We received an official invitation from the Western Athletic Conference yesterday,” SUU officials said on Tuesday. “We have not made a final decision, but are seriously considering it.”

The statement continued to add that there is no timeline for a decision to be made.

The biggest barrier to a transition to the WAC will be the lack of football sponsorship by the conference. The university has previously said that any change to a new conference would require it to support the Thunderbirds football team. This has not stopped three schools from holding WAC membership, however. Newcomers Dixie State and Tarleton State compete as Football Championship Subdivision independent teams. New Mexico State plays football as Football Bowl Subdivision independents.

It also appears that the WAC is discussing sponsoring football again for the first time since 2013, with several schools in Texas with football programs reportedly receiving offers to join the conference, including Sam Houston State, Abilene Christian, Stephen F. Austin and Lamar, according to Matt Brown, publisher of the Extra Points newsletter.

Football is one of two sports SUU plays that the WAC does not sponsor. The other is gymnastics, which already competes in the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference, not in the Big Sky.

The WAC declined to comment on SUU’s statement, saying it is a conference policy not to comment on potential membership issues. It also did not offer much in terms of a timeline.

Chris Thompson, assistant commissioner of media relations for the WAC, said there is no set amount of time for prospective members to make a decision on a formal offer.

“This is something that would be determined at the board of directors level but I can imagine it would vary based on circumstance,” Thompson said via email.

The Thunderbirds have been a member of the Big Sky since 2012, when it left the Summit League, their home conference for 15 years.

In the immediate, SUU continues to compete in the Big Sky, with basketball season for both men and women underway.

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