WAC adds Grand Canyon University

DENVER -- The troubled Western Athletic Conference is adding Grand Canyon University to replace the University of Denver, which is bolting for the Summit League after just one year in the WAC.

But the WAC must find another school -- and quickly -- in order to keep its automatic qualifying berths in the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments.

Grand Canyon University President Brian Mueller called Tuesday a historic day.

"We have made a commitment to excellence in athletics, just as we have academically, and that commitment has been recognized by the invitation to join the Western Athletic Conference, a conference with a storied past," Mueller said in a statement.

He predicted Division I status will raise the university's profile.

Grand Canyon, located in Phoenix with an enrollment of 6,500, would join Cal State-Bakersfield, Idaho, New Mexico State, Seattle and Utah Valley in the WAC starting in the 2013-14 academic year.

Keith Baker, the director of athletics at Grand Canyon, said Tuesday the school has already started the division transition process, which takes four years. Following the transition period, Grand Canyon will become a full Division I member provided that it meets all NCAA standards.

For the rest of the 2012-13 season, the university said its teams will remain eligible for all Pacific West Conference Championships as well as NCAA Division II postseason play.

WAC Interim Commissioner Jeff Hurd said the conference will help Grand Canyon as it makes the transition to the competitive Division I.

"This is another important step in the rebuilding process of the WAC as we continue to strengthen the conference," Hurd said.

In the Summit League, Denver plans to compete for conference championships in men's and women's basketball, men's and women's golf, men's and women's soccer, men's and women's swimming and diving, men's and women's tennis, and volleyball.

Denver said its hockey, gymnastics, men's and women's lacrosse, and men's and women's skiing teams will stay in their respective conferences.

Denver joins Omaha, Kansas City, Fort Wayne, North Dakota State, South Dakota, South Dakota State, Oakland, Western Illinois and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, or IUPUI, in the conference.