Utah Valley University would very much like to be a part of the Western Athletic Conference. The move holds a variety of no-brainer improvements over UVU's current status as a member of the loosely affiliated Great West, not least of which is the automatic NCAA tournament berth given to the winner of the WAC conference tournament each season. Being a small mid-major in Division I basketball is tough enough. Doing so as an independent is downright impossible.
Meanwhile, Utah State is the defining WAC power. In 11 years under Stew Morrill, the Aggies have won seven regular season conference championships, made eight NCAA tournament appearances, and maintained one of the highest winning percentages in the nation. In 2011, Utah State finished 30-4 after a five-point loss to Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Given that huge gulf in tradition, affiliation and success, would Utah State really sabotage Utah Valley's ability to join the WAC? According to Utah Valley, yes. Why? Recruits, maybe? From the Salt-Lake Tribune:
Utah Valley officials believe their USU counterparts have been less than supportive in bringing the Wolverines into the WAC, largely because they don’t want to compete with UVU for basketball recruits.
"Other people in the WAC tell me that if Utah State would support us … we would get in," Utah Valley athletic director Michael Jacobsen told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday. "We don’t think that we’re getting that support."
How does Utah State respond? Let's just say Utah State president Stan Albrecht has, ahem, minimal patience for these sorts of intimations:
"That’s a bunch of B.S.," Albrecht said. "There’s nothing to block. We haven’t even met yet. People have been getting way ahead of themselves on the issue, and it’s unfortunate. Until we meet in June, there’s really nothing to talk about. The notion that we wouldn’t want to compete for recruits is completely untrue. Give me a break. We’ve competed for decades against Utah and BYU, and we’ve done quite well."
That answer seems a bit more believable, if only because Utah State's explanation makes sense: The school has been competing with in-state powers far more intimidating that Utah Valley for decades now, and as you saw above, Morrill and company have had no problems maintaining success despite a pair of traditionally competitive neighbors. Is Utah Valley really going to sweep into the WAC and start stealing Aggie recruits? That seems ... doubtful.
In some ways, this counts as encouraging news for UVU. If Utah State isn't blocking the move, and has nothing to fear from the expansion, then the Wolverines' chances of joining seem even more likely, no?
There are rumors surrounding a potential invitation to Seattle -- a newly minted (and surprisingly competitive) member of Division I -- as a basketball-only member, which would damage but Utah Valley's hopes, so there is more at work than in-state rivalry here. But if UVU doesn't get in the WAC, it will be hard to believe that's because Utah State decided to get territorial.