Amid much fanfare on March 19, Cal State Bakersfield officials gleefully announced that the university's men's soccer program would begin playing in the Pac-12 Conference in the fall of 2013.
Now, before the Roadrunners have even played a game in what is considered the West Coast's strongest league, CSUB won't be headed to the Pac-12 after all.
The Western Athletic Conference, it turns out, trumps the Pac-12 -- at least as far as CSUB is concerned.
The Roadrunners, who announced Oct. 9 they will become a full member of the WAC effective this July, are bound to the WAC in men's soccer after the conference announced Wednesday it was adding that sport to its athletic offerings.
Next year's WAC membership includes three schools that offer men's soccer: CSUB, Seattle and Grand Canyon. The WAC also announced Wednesday that Air Force, Houston Baptist, UNLV and San Jose State will participate in WAC men's soccer as affiliate members.
CSUB, Seattle, UNLV, Air Force, San Jose State and Houston Baptist were formerly men's soccer members of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. The MPSF, which has had men's soccer since 1992, will discontinue the sport and the WAC will take over the MPSF's automatic qualifying berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Grand Canyon, presently an NCAA Division II institution, will not be eligible for postseason play until 2017 and is ineligible to compete in any WAC Tournament prior to that season. The WAC Tournament will decide the conference's automatic qualifier into the NCAA Tournament.
"The addition of men's soccer is part of the WAC's evolution," said Jeff Hurd, WAC interim commissioner, in a news release. "We look forward to working with these institutions to provide a solid, competitive home for their men's soccer programs."
In order to maintain its status as a conference with an automatic qualifier into NCAA Tournaments, the WAC must offer at least three men's team sports and three women's team sports.
The WAC, devastated by the departure of many longtime members and by all but two of its football-playing members, announced on Aug. 20 that it discontinuing football as a conference sport after the 2012 season.
The loss of football required the WAC to add a third men's team sport to join basketball and baseball. Wednesday's announcement allows the WAC to retain its automatic qualifying status for NCAA. Volleyball, basketball and soccer are the WAC's women's team sports.
"We appreciate the opportunity presented by the Pac-12," CSUB athletic director Jeff Konya said in a statement. "Unfortunately, as is the norm with conference realignment, we have to go in another direction in terms of conference membership for our men's soccer program.
"We are excited to maintain our relationships wit the institutions we faced in the MPSF while we are committed to the growth and success of the WAC by fielding teams in that conference, especially in team sports with automatic qualification into the NCAA Tournament.”
Konya said CSUB does not owe an exit fee to the Pac-12.
CSUB coach Simon Tobin, who just completed his 26th season as the Roadrunners’ coach, said it was a “feather in the cap” of the Roadrunner program to earn a Pac-12 invitation.
“But I always knew that they (CSUB) would move into a conference that could affect men’s soccer,” Tobin said. “Once we got into the WAC, several things could have happened. I was always aware that this could come down.”
Tobin added: “Looking at the plus side, winning the conference should be slightly easier and that conference has an automatic bid.
“Another way I look at it: The best men’s soccer program over the last eight years has been Akron (Ohio), a small school in a small conference. But they’ve done a great job in out-of-conference games and that’s a program where a lot of kids have gone on to the MLS. They have proven themselves as the most consistent, best soccer school.
“I thought Bakersfield could do something like that.”
CSUB has placed second in the MPSF Tournament twice and reached the semifinals last fall in its three years in that league. The 2011 squad earned CSUB’s first team berth into an NCAA Tournament in the program’s Division I history.
New Mexico, which has been the MPSF’s strongest men’s soccer team in recent seasons, is moving to Conference USA.
“Now we will be the team with the target on our back,” Tobin said. “But that’s fine. We are in a conference where we’re looked at as the No. 1 team. That has its merits as well.”
This will be the second time the WAC has offered men’s soccer. The sport was part of the league from 1996-99. CSUB will have 14 of its 19 teams affiliated with the WAC when the full membership begins on July 1.