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Posted June 15, 2011

Seattle U Receives Invite To Join WAC

It was the one big question that had hovered over the Seattle University athletic department since the school decided to return to Division I sports in 2007. Where would it find a conference to call home?

Tuesday, the Redhawks got their answer when the Western Athletic Conference invited Seattle U. to join, a proposal that was quickly and joyously accepted.

"This is a landmark day for all of our sports," said men's basketball coach Cameron Dollar during a raucous news conference on campus.

The invite came a day after Seattle U. president Stephen Sundborg made a final pitch to the WAC board of directors during a conference meeting in Park City, Utah.

Seattle University will join the WAC in 17 sports beginning in the 2012-13 academic year, which will also be the first year the basketball programs will be eligible for the NCAA tournament.

"It right off the bat gives you some name recognition and kind of legitimizes from the outside where you are going and who you are with," said Dollar, the former Washington assistant who will enter his third year with the program next season.

Since taking over as coach, Dollar had maintained he was fine with the school's status as an independent. But he said joining a conference will make it easier to recruit, in large part because being in a conference provides an obvious and realistic avenue for getting into the NCAA tournament by winning the conference postseason tournament.

"The two questions you get are 'What conference are you in?' and 'How are you going to get into the tournament?' " Dollar said. "We won't get those anymore. This instantly wipes that out."

Seattle U. was the only school invited by the WAC on Tuesday. Utah Valley also made an in-person presentation Monday seeking entry.

The Redhawks will be the ninth school in the WAC for the 2012-13 season and, like Denver, will not play football. WAC commissioner Karl Benson said the conference hopes to expand further in the near future to beef up its football membership, possibly getting to as many as 12 schools with the possibility of two six-team divisions.

The WAC has undergone significant shuffling in recent years, with Boise State moving to the Mountain West after last season, and Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada will leave after the 2011-12 season.

Its five remaining members are Idaho, Louisiana Tech, Utah State, San Jose State and New Mexico State. Seattle U., Texas State, the University of Texas at San Antonio and Denver will join July 1, 2012.

Benson noted Seattle's "media market" as one of several attractions of adding the school.

"Along with KeyArena and (hiring) Cameron Dollar (as basketball coach), I think that in the last two years Seattle U. has demonstrated their commitment back to Division I," Benson said. "They are certainly a player in the Seattle college sports market, and we look forward to taking advantage of that."

Seattle U. first made a presentation to the WAC in late September, at which time it did not receive an invite. Benson, however, said, "Timing, sometimes, is everything," and noted that since, Hawaii had made the decision to leave for the Mountain West Conference. "That put us in a different environment and so that has allowed Seattle U. to surface as the best possible school for us," Benson said.

Benson said that KeyArena could be considered as a possible future site for the conference's postseason basketball tournament, which is held at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

Sundborg, meanwhile, said landing in a conference will improve the experience for the school's athletes by giving them obvious goals such as conference titles and all-conference honors and also simplifying scheduling.

The men's basketball team, for instance, played 19 of its 31 games last season on the road, and was forced to be creative to fill out its schedule without regular conference foes.

"The road trips we had last season, it was tough on us," said guard Sterling Carter, who will be a sophomore next season. "It's kind of hard to balance school and basketball and traveling all over the country. ... It's very exciting to know you are in a conference now and to have something to be a little bit more motivated to, knowing that you are able to compete for a championship."

Sundborg said Seattle U. will share in revenues once it becomes a member of the WAC but said the move wasn't being made to benefit financially but instead because it will help the "visibility and opportunity for all of our students."

The WAC has a contract with ESPN through the 2016-17 season that guarantees regular appearances on the network's various platforms. Seattle U. has not been on ESPN since its return to Division I.

Sundborg said the announcement was the culmination of a long road that began when the school decided in 2007 to return to Division I athletics after having dropped out of it in 1980. The school will be in the fourth year of its reclassification process next season before gaining full Division I membership in 2012-13.

As he concluded his remarks, Sundborg held up a game ball from Seattle U.'s appearance in the 1958 NCAA championship game against Kentucky (a game won by the Wildcats). "By joining the WAC, this gives us a direct path to NCAA championships," he said. "We have set the goal of building championship programs."

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