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If official — UWS will leave the WIAC

UW-Superior Athletic Director Steven Nelson, center, address the crowd at a media conference Thursday afternoon in the Marcovich Health and Wellness Center. On the left is Upper Midwest Athletic Conference commissioner Corey Borchardt and on the right is UWS Chancellor Dr. Renee Wachter. (Photo courtesy of Tom Hansen, Associate University Relations Specialist at UWS)

Superior Telegram

ST. PAUL — The Upper Midwest Athletic Conference Council of Presidents accepted the membership application of the University of Wisconsin-Superior on Monday, voting to approve the Yellowjackets athletics program as the league’s ninth full member as of the 2015-16 academic year.

The 2014-15 season will be the final season in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for Yellowjacket sports teams, ending a 102-year affiliation.

“This really is a bittersweet day for us,” UWS Athletics Director Steve Nelson said. “On the one hand we are excited to see what the future holds in becoming part of a new conference, but on the other hand there is some emotion that comes with leaving the only conference we have been a part of.

“We are a charter member of the WIAC and believe me, this isn’t a decision that was made lightly or made on a whim. At the end of the day, we had to do what was best for our department. We had to do what was best competitively, financially and institutionally.”

UWS currently sponsors 15 varsity sports at the NCAA Division III level. Thirteen of those 15 programs will compete in the UMAC with the exception of men’s and women’s ice hockey, which will both continue to compete in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

“Losing a member, particularly a charter member that has been in the conference for over 100 years, is never a desirable development,” WIAC Commissioner Gary Karner said. “However, when you look at all the variables an institution needs to consider with respect to conference affiliation such as enrollment and travel distances, this move is clearly in the best interest of UW-Superior and its athletics program.

“On a positive note, we are extremely pleased that Superior will remain a member of the WIAC in the sports of men’s and women’s ice hockey and we look forward to a great many opportunities to continue competing against the Yellowjackets in other sports, albeit as non-conference opponents.”

Yellowjacket men’s sports teams were part of the State Normal Conference beginning in 1913. The conference would later become known as the Wisconsin State University Conference. In 1971 women’s sports teams joined the Wisconsin Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The conferences then merged to form the WIAC in 1997. Outside of men’s and women’s hockey, Yellowjacket sports have only competed in the WIAC.

“For a long time the WIAC was the right fit, and the only fit, for UW-Superior,” Nelson said. “Over time that has changed. Our travel is much more significant than any other team in the conference, with our shortest trip being over two hours. It is something that has had an effect on and is a burden to our coaches and student-athletes.

“The size discrepancy cannot be ignored, either. At one time most of the schools in the conference were relatively similar in size. Now most of the schools are four and five times larger than we are. The next smallest school is more than double our size. That kind of discrepancy puts us at a significant disadvantage in terms of funding and resources and we just couldn’t continue to do business the same way any longer, so we began to explore our options with the UMAC.”

The UMAC is a dramatic departure from the WIAC for UWS. The smallest school in the WIAC, UWS will become the third-largest institution in the UMAC. Travel will also be considerably reduced, with most trips in the conference falling within the window of the shortest trip in the WIAC.

“The travel consideration is a very big part of all this for us. The travel within the UMAC is much more cost effective,” Nelson said. “The flip side of that is, with the shorter trips, our student-athletes will spend a lot less time out of the classroom, which is of utmost importance. We pride ourselves on the academic performance of our student-athletes and missing fewer classes because of road trips is only going to enhance that standpoint and that of the general student population.”

Other member institutions of the UMAC are Bethany Lutheran College (Mankato, Minn.); Crown College (St. Bonafacious, Minn.); Martin Luther College (New Ulm, Minn.); University of Minnesota-Morris (Morris, Minn.); North Central University (Minneapolis, Minn.); Northland College (Ashland, Wis.); University of Northwestern-St. Paul (St. Paul, Minn.); and the College of St. Scholastica.

“For UW-Superior, this move aligns us with schools that are of similar size and schools that fall more within our recruiting footprint — both from an athletics standpoint and that of the general student population,” Nelson said. “And I don't think that I need to say what it means to be in the same conference with St. Scholastica. This is going to significantly fan the fire and provide a lot of energy to an already strong rivalry.”

The UMAC, with most of its membership based in Minnesota, was founded in 1972 as the Twin Cities Rivers Conference before receiving its current moniker in 1983.

“The UMAC is pleased to add UW-Superior as a full member of our conference,” UMAC Commissioner Corey Borchardt said. “It is clear that UW-Superior embodies the foundational elements of our conference including our mission, which recognizes the pursuit of excellence in both academics and athletics.

To add another member with a similar profile of our current membership and centrally located in the current footprint of our conference is a significant step in the continued fulfillment of our strategic plan and growth as a league. I look forward to working with UW-Superior administrators, including Chancellor Dr. Renee Wachter and Director of Athletics Steve Nelson in further progressing our league as well as their institutional programming and profile.”

’JACKET JOTTINGS: UWS will be the third largest institution in the UMAC with an enrollment of more than 2,500 in 33 undergraduate majors and seven graduate programs. … UWS and Northland College of Ashland are two member institutions located in Wisconsin, with the seven other institutions located in Minnesota. ... UWS is the second full member and third overall member that the UMAC has added since 2012.