ST. GEORGE — The Trailblazers will be forging another new path on the football field in 2023.
Utah Tech Athletic Director Ken Beazer told St. George News Monday that it is a done deal: the Trailblazers are part of a new football-only conference beginning with games in the upcoming season.
“We’re playing a six game conference schedule in 2023,” Beazer said. “It will be a full eight game schedule in 2024.”
Beazer stressed that it is for football only; all other Utah Tech sports teams will continue Division I competition in the Western Athletic Conference.
Utah Tech and the other WAC football teams–Stephen F. Austin, Tarleton State, Abilene Christian, Southern Utah University– will merge with members of the Atlantic Sun Conference to form the new conference.
Beazer said that the new conference will not be in the Football Bowl Subdivision. That is the top tier of Division I college football that has the Power Five conferences and was won Monday night for the second year in a row by the Georgia Bulldogs.
The new conference will remain in the Football Championship Subdivision. That tier is decided in a yearly playoff and was won last weekend by South Dakota State.
Merging the WAC and ASUN guarantees a spot in the FCS playoffs for the conference winner.
“Getting the automatic qualifier to the FCS championships was the definitive motive,” Beazer said.
The ASUN teams–Austin Peay, Kennesaw State, Eastern Kentucky, Central Arkansas, Jacksonville State, North Alabama–were led by Eastern Kentucky, which went 1-1 in the FCS playoffs.
Beazer said that traveling from Southwest Utah to the Deep South for multiple games will be a challenge.
“In football, we charter our flights anyway. Football is a little bit easier because it’s one game per week,” Beazer said. “So you’re basically in and out. Once you’re on a plane, it’s not much different from flying to Texas than it is flying to Eastern Kentucky or Central Arkansas.”
Beazer spoke with St. George News before going to San Antonio, Texas for the governance meetings that will define the structure and policies of the new conference.
Football veteran Oliver Luck, former athletics director at West Virginia University and father of former NFL quarterback Andrew Luck, was named executive director.
“He adds credibility and validity to the conference structure,” Beazer said, adding that the Trailblazers expect to see many benefits from conference membership.
“One of the disadvantages in recruiting over the past few years has been, one, not being eligible for NCAA championships as is,” Beazer said, “and two, even if you do have a good year, you’re not guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. Now we say, if you win the conference championship, you’re in the playoffs.”
Utah Tech made the transition to NCAA Division I, renovated its stadium, joined a mega-conference and produced an All-American wide receiver (Joey Hobert), all in less than five years.
“The footprint has greatly expanded, and exposure for our student athletes has greatly expanded,” Beazer said. “It’s been a rapid ascension. There’s really no plan to stop. I think the growth of the community, the growth of the university not only mandates, but almost guarantees the growth of the athletic department.”
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