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UCR Invited to Join Big West Conference,Clearing Major Hurdle in Division I Bid

UCR Invited to Join Big West Conference,Clearing Major Hurdle in Division I Bid

(February 9, 2000)

The Highlanders of the University of California, Riverside today accepted the invitation of the Big West Conference to join the league, effective July 1, 2001, thus clearing a major hurdle in the campus' transition to NCAA Division I status.

In a conference call meeting today of the presidents of Big West member universities, both UCR and Cal State Northridge were invited to join the conference currently comprised of 12 universities in California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, New Mexico and Texas.

"We have wanted to join the Big West ever since we conceived the transition to Division I," said UCR Chancellor Raymond L. Orbach. "Throughout this process, it has been our goal to raise the level of intercollegiate athletics to the same national preeminence as our academic programs. Association with the Big West has moved UCR a giant step forward toward that objective. We are delighted by the invitation extended by the Big West and we accept that invitation enthusiastically."

Conference affiliation with the Big West provides important symbolic and practical benefits as the UCR Highlanders complete their transition to the top rung of intercollegiate athletics competition, UCR Athletics Director Stan Morrison said.

"This gives us a sense of belonging. The Big West has a rich heritage of success in so many sports and some of the truly great academic institutions in the nation," Morrison said. "From a geographic and rivalry perspective, this is an ideal match for the Highlanders."

Since its establishment in 1969, the Big West on many occasions has garnered national attention, with member schools excelling nationally in men's basketball, baseball and women's volleyball, among other sports. In basketball, former Big West school UNLV captured the national championship in 1990. Current Big West member Cal State Fullerton has won a national title in baseball under the Big West banner. In women's volleyball, the Big West has won six NCAA championships.

The Big West Conference is currently comprised of Boise State, Cal Poly, Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, New Mexico State, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, Idaho, University of Nevada, North Texas, Pacific and Utah State.

UCR, a Division II power since the early 1970s, began moving toward Division I two years ago. In 1998, UCR undergraduates voted to assess themselves $35 per quarter ($105 per year) to help fund a Division I athletics program. Last spring, UCR formally announced its intention to reclassify the intercollegiate athletics program from Division II to Division I.

Last summer, the Highlanders appointed Stan Morrison as athletics director. Morrison has previously achieved national recognition as a basketball coach, athletic administrator and television commentator. Since then, efforts have focused on gaining a league affiliation, a move seen as critical to the Highlanders' success both for scheduling reasons and because the student referendum stipulated a conference membership.

The next phase for the Highlanders will be stepping up to Division I competition on the playing field and in the gym, according to Morrison. Beginning in the 2000-2001 academic year, UCR teams will play a Division I schedule. Men's basketball will open at Stanford, currently ranked No. 2 in the nation.

As part of the Highlanders' two-year transition to Division I, scheduled to be completed at the end of the 2000-2001 academic year, UCR will add four new sports - men's and women's soccer and men's and women's golf.

C. Michael Webster, UCR vice chancellor of administration who oversees intercollegiate athletics, said the Highlanders hope to make an impact immediately in at least one of the campus' major sports - men's and women's basketball, women's volleyball and baseball. "The goal is to be competitive immediately and I believe we can do that because of the quality leadership of our coaches and intercollegiate athletics staff and because of the dedication of our student-athletes," he said.

Invoking the Highlanders' motto, "Braveheart is Alive!," Morrison said UCR athletics teams are prepared for what will surely be a tremendous challenge in the early years of Division I competition. "We aren't so na?e to think we will not get knocked down, but we will grow and we will stand again, and eventually, we will stand all the time," he said.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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