Dixie State University to join Western Athletic Conference, ascend to NCAA’s top division

Dixie State University fans show their school spirit, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of DSU Athletics, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Dixie State University President Dr. Richard B. Williams announced Friday that the institution has accepted an invitation to join the Western Athletic Conference and will begin the transition to NCAA Division I status.

The announcement was made in front of a standing-room-only crowd inside the DSU Student Activities Center, the first-ever building constructed at the current university’s location. The event was emceed by DSU Athletic Hall of Famer and former NBA great Lionel Hollins and was attended by Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert, WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd and others, according to a press release from the university.

Dixie State will officially apply for NCAA Division I status in June 2020. Upon completion of the four-year reclassification process, the Trailblazers will be eligible for NCAA Division I postseason play beginning in the 2024-25 season.

“Moving to Division I is the next pivotal step in Dixie State University transitioning from securing university status in 2013 to obtaining university stature,” Williams said in the press 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.”

Dixie State has been a member of the NCAA at the Division II level since the 2006-07 season after several decades as a NJCAA national power. DSU sponsors 15 intercollegiate athletic programs, including six men’s sports (baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf and soccer) and nine women’s sports (basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track and field, and volleyball).

Dixie State University volleyball, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of DSU Athletics, St. George News

During the reclassification period, 14 of Dixie State’s 15 sports will compete in the WAC, while the DSU football program will compete as an independent at the Football Championship Subdivision level.

“Several factors make Dixie State University a great fit for the WAC,” Hurd said. “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.”

The Trailblazers are in their first season as full members of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (football since 2016) after a successful 11-year run in the Pacific West Conference.

Since DSU became eligible for postseason play in 2009, the Trailblazers have made 57 NCAA Division II Regional championship appearances and won three regional championships in softball in 2009, 2014 and 2015 (national runner-up). DSU has also had 27 student-athletes earn Division II All-America honors, while 20 more student-athletes earned Academic All-America recognition.

Fans in Dixie State University’s Trailblazer Stadium, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of DSU Athletics, St. George News

“This is an incredibly exciting time for Dixie State University, our entire athletic department, and for Trailblazer Nation,” said Jason Boothe, DSU director of intercollegiate athletics. “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.

“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. We look forward to working with our local community, students, faculty and staff, fans, sponsors, and alumni as we build the programs up in this next phase for Trailblazer Athletics.”

Founded in 1962, the Western Athletic Conference is one of the premier leagues at the NCAA Division I level.

There are currently nine full members of the WAC, including fellow in-state school and former DSU junior college rival Utah Valley University, along with former PacWest rivals California Baptist and Grand Canyon. CSU Bakersfield, Chicago State, Missouri-Kansas City, New Mexico State, Seattle University and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley round out the full-time roster of WAC schools. In addition, Air Force, Houston Baptist, Idaho, Incarnate Word, UNLV, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Sacramento State and San Jose State are affiliate conference members in selected sports.

“Dixie State’s new membership in the WAC will be great for collegiate athletics in Utah and for the fans of both universities,” said Utah Valley Athletic Director Vince Otoupal. “It will also be really fun to rekindle our old junior college rivalry from the 80’s and 90’s, which I’m sure will spark many fond memories from our alumni.”

In addition to the Division I news, Boothe also announced a generous $1 million gift from Mr. and Mrs. Denis and Diane Lyman, of St. George, to kick off the renovation of the DSU Softball Complex (Karl Brooks Field).

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Twitter: @STGnews

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