Dixie State is ready to move up to the Division I ranks, as the university announced Friday it will join the Western Athletic Conference effective July 1, 2020.
"Moving to Division I is the next pivotal step in Dixie State University transitioning from securing university status in 2013 to obtaining university stature," Dixie State President Richard B. Williams said in a news release. "Joining the Western Athletic Conference will not only elevate our athletic teams and allow them to play other high-caliber competitors, but it will elevate our entire university and expand the stage on which we can share the message about the high-quality academic programs, individualized attention and active learning opportunities available at Dixie State."
The Trailblazers will officially begin WAC regular-season competition during the 2020-21 season and will start a four-year reclassification process to earn full Division I membership status. Upon completion of the reclassification process, Dixie State will be eligible for NCAA Division I postseason play beginning in 2024-25.
The school announced that 14 of its 15 sports will compete in the WAC, while Dixie State's football program will compete as an independent at the Football Championship Subdivision level during the reclassification process.
"Several factors make Dixie State University a great fit for the WAC," WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd said in a news release. "Commitment to quality academics and athletics programs, along with the long-term vision that President Williams has for the university's growth, are at the top of the list. I have no doubt that Dixie State will make a smooth transition to Division I and to the WAC."
In addition to football, Dixie State currently fields athletic teams in baseball, softball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s swimming, women’s track, women’s tennis and women’s volleyball.
Dixie State is currently a Division II institution competing in its first year as a full member in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (in football since 2016) after more than a decade competing in the PacWest Conference.
"We are strong institutionally, we are strong academically, and we are strong athletically which is why we are ready to make the move to Division I status and join the Western Athletic Conference," Williams said during an hour-long school announcement of the move.
Williams added that the “D” on the hill in St. George will include a “1” next to it for the next several days to honor the move.
Dixie State will become the ninth member of the WAC, joining fellow in-state school Utah Valley in the league as well as Cal Baptist, Chicago State, Grand Canyon, University of Missouri-Kansas City, New Mexico State, Seattle and University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The conference is currently also home to CSU Bakersfield, which will move to the Big West Conference in 2020.
Dixie State becomes the third Division II school to be invited to the WAC in the past six years, including Grand Canyon, which is in its second year as a full-time Division I member, and Cal Baptist, in its first transitional year.
"We have enjoyed over a decade of championship-level success at the NCAA Division II level. With the current trajectory of our institution, coupled with the increased growth of St. George and southern Utah, we feel the timing is perfect to take that next step forward to increase the visibility of Dixie State University," Dixie State athletic director Jason Boothe said in a news release. "We also look forward to the opportunity to schedule and play the other Division I programs not only in the state of Utah, but regionally and on a national level as well."
Dixie State won’t be eligible for WAC postseason competition as it goes through the four-year reclassification process. The Trailblazers will, however, be able to earn regular-season WAC championships during that time.
It was a day to celebrate around the state, as Utah Governor Gary Herbert was on hand for the festivities, along with UVU athletic director Vince Otoupal. Boothe and Otoupal announced a traveling trophy for the renewed rivalry between the two schools who will soon be in the same conference.
"Dixie State's new membership in the WAC will be great for collegiate athletics in Utah and for the fans of both universities," Otoupal said in a news release. "It will also be really fun to rekindle our old junior college rivalry from the '80s and '90s, which I'm sure will spark many fond memories from our alumni."
As for that traveling trophy?
“I’ll make some room in the trophy case for that trophy to sit every year,” Boothe said during the ceremony.
“Oh, Boothe. It’s on, buddy,” Otoupal quipped.
There was also football scheduling news for the Trailblazers. Dixie State and Southern Utah announced a three-game series between the two nearby schools. Game one in the series will be played Sept. 5, 2020, at SUU’s Eccles Coliseum in Cedar City in the first game at the FCS Division I level for the Trailblazers.
Game 2 will be played on Sept. 3, 2022, in Cedar City, with the final game heading to Dixie State’s Trailblazer Stadium on Sept. 7, 2024.
Boothe also said Dixie State has future scheduling agreements with Weber State and Montana State.5 comments on this story
In addition, Boothe announced a $1 million gift from Denis and Diane Lyman of St. George that will go toward the renovation of Dixie State's softball complex, Karl Brooks Field.
"We have excellent Division I-caliber facilities and we plan to renovate this facility to match that excellence for our student-athletes, coaches and fans. We could not be more grateful for the Lymans and their support," Boothe said.
With Dixie State’s move to Division I, that will leave the state of Utah with only one school, Westminster, at the Division II level. Westminster currently competes with Dixie State in the RMAC.