This was no muted celebration.
The wait was longer than Cal State Bakersfield would have liked, and the Western Athletic Conference isn't what it used to be, but the announcement that CSUB will join the WAC in time for the 2013-14 school year was met with much fanfare at the school's Dore Theater on Tuesday.
"This really is a good day for the conference and for the institution," said interim WAC commissioner Jeff Hurd, whose conference also added Utah Valley University on Tuesday. "It's a good marriage. We need the institution to continue to develop as a conference, and the institution needs us to continue to develop as an institution."
A good marriage deserves a good wedding celebration, right? There were WAC T-shirts, cheerleaders, music videos, a mascot sighting and many enthusiastic ovations: CSUB, six years after it began the process of reclassifying as an NCAA Division I school, finally has a program-wide conference home.
"The time has come to cross that last hurdle and solidify ourselves as a Division I program," said CSUB president Dr. Horace Mitchell. "This is a great day for the university and the athletics program."
Previously, many CSUB sports were affiliate members of other conferences (some will remain so, like wrestling and men's soccer in the Pac-12 Conference, and CSUB baseball and women's swimming already had joined the WAC as affiliate members). But four core sports remained independent: men's and women's basketball, women's volleyball and women's soccer. Those, and any other sport the WAC offers, will join the conference next year.
The perks of joining a conference are numerous. At the top of the list is a chance for CSUB's teams to compete in NCAA championship events if they win the WAC; an independent team could only reach that level if it was given a precious at-large berth over schools from every conference in the country.
"We're so excited," said junior soccer player Erica Shelton, a Stockdale graduate who will play her final season in the WAC. "When I found out last week, it was just a few of us, and I screamed. We're very thankful to be part of the WAC.
"We have something to play for now. It just ups the intensity. We really feel like we can make it into the (NCAA) tournament now. It means everything. We have some very real hope now."
Roadrunner teams also no longer have to worry about scheduling non-conference games during conference season, when other teams typically don't want to step out of their league.
"Having that schedule already set is going to be great," women's basketball coach Greg McCall said. "Scheduling between the months of January and March is very, very tough. Other teams are already playing their conference games, and to get them, during their bye weeks, to play us is very, very difficult."
Perhaps as much as anything, though, this was about CSUB benefitting from the brand name of the WAC, a nationally known conference that started in 1962 with Arizona, Arizona State, BYU, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming as its inaugural members and boasts a 1984 national football championship from BYU and many signifcant basketball achievements among its accomplishments.
"I think it adds a little bit of validity to our program," CSUB athletic director Jeff Konya said. "I say we out-kicked our coverage, and I mean that we were able to land in a conference that has had 50-plus years of incredible results. There's a lot of equity built into that brand, and it's well-known on a national basis."
Financially, the move seems to be a net positive for CSUB, as well. Konya said he doesn't expect significant exit fees from the conferences that host CSUB sports as affiliate members, and the Roadrunners will be full WAC members as of July 1, with the revenue-sharing privileges that entails, including those from the lucrative NCAA men's basketball tournament.
The Roadrunners long have been waiting for this day. When Konya was hired late in 2010, even before he officially started as CSUB's athletic director, he said he made calls to the comissioner of every regional conference in Division I, inquiring about membership.
"The cell phone bill was quite high," Konya said, smiling. "The text message at 2 a.m. might have been over the top."
The day he was hired, Konya bought a bottle of champagne. He kept it in his refrigerator until last week, when Hurd called him with the good news.
"It was a constant reminder of where I needed to have my focus," Konya said. "Every time I opened the fridge, there was that champagne bottle, yelling at me. So when (the WAC accepted CSUB), I took that bottle out to my balcony and sipped."
Last year, CSUB made a membership presentation to the WAC, which chose to add Seattle and Denver instead. But, as hundreds of text messages exchanged between Konya and Hurd illustrate, the conversation never stopped.
"We've had a lot of talks," said Hurd, who was the WAC's senior associate commissioner before replacing Karl Benson as commissioner in March. "A lot of good talks, a lot that probably weren't as good. But from every standpoint, Jeff has kept me informed of what was going on here and I've tried to keep him involved of things from our board standpoint. All along we've been up front. The understanding was that we're working at this. It's not as simple as saying, they want to come in and we want to bring them in. There's a lot that goes into it."
Now the marriage is complete. But there are still clouds on the horizon.
The WAC's membership has changed dramatically in the past two years.
Boise State left the league in 2011, and Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii followed suit this year. Next year, six more schools have announced they'll depart: San Jose State, Louisiana Tech, Utah State, Texas Arlington, Texas State and Texas San Antonio.
That left the conference with just four members for 2013-14 and on life support: The NCAA requires that a conference have seven members in at least 16 sports for its champions to qualify for automatic bids to NCAA championship events -- though a league can drop to six members during a two-year grace period.
As Hurd made the trip from WAC headquarters in Englewood, Colo., to Bakersfield, a concurrent announcement was taking place in Orem, Utah, as Utah Valley also joined the league. That will give the league six members, at least enough to meet the grace-period requirements: Idaho, New Mexico State, Denver, Seattle, Utah Valley and CSUB.
But Hurd was quick to point out the WAC can't be done expanding.
"This is an important step, but it's a first step," Hurd said. "We have a lot of work to do as we move forward."
That's because of the six, only Idaho and New Mexico State play football, and both might get restless in a conference that doesn't support that high-revenue sport.
The Idaho Statesman newspaper has already reported that Idaho and the Big Sky Conference plan on the Vandals joining that league in 2014-15.
"Six is where we are today," Hurd said. "Where we'll be next year at this time, I can't tell you. But I can tell you it's unlikely that we'll be at six."
But none of that talk was dampening the celebration at CSUB, where a conference home, at long last, has been found.
"For our long-term growth, a conference affiliation certainly is the right move," Konya said. "We are pleased and just thrilled to add to the core membership of the Western Athletic Conference."