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Big West Announces Another Expansion : College sports: Boise State, Idaho and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo accept invitations to join conference. North Texas to announce its decision on Monday.

October 14, 1994|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — After nearly a decade of stability, the Big West Conference will undergo its fifth major change in four years with Thursday's announcement that Boise State, Idaho, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and North Texas will be added to the league for the 1996-97 school year.

Boise State, Idaho and San Luis Obispo officially accepted the invitation Thursday. North Texas will announce its intentions Monday, but the school issued a statement saying it was "extremely excited" about the invitation.

Though Nevada Las Vegas and San Jose State will leave the Big West to join the Western Athletic Conference in 1996, the expansion will boost the Big West to 12 members for men's basketball, which will necessitate a split into two, six-team divisions.

The Western Division will consist of Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine, Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara, Pacific and San Luis Obispo. The Eastern Division will consist of Idaho, Boise State, Nevada, Utah State, New Mexico State and North Texas.

Eleven schools will play football--San Luis Obispo, which plays in the Division I-AA, restricted scholarship American West Conference, will not join the Big West in that sport--but Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell said he is looking at Central Florida or Northwestern Louisiana as a prospective football-only member, in hopes of creating a two-division conference.

Southwestern Louisiana, Louisiana Tech, Northern Illinois and Arkansas State are football-only members of the Big West, and will be joined in the conference by Nevada, New Mexico State, Pacific, Utah State, North Texas, Boise State and Idaho.

That means there will be only one California school--Pacific--left playing football in the Big West , which as recently as 1977 consisted of only California schools. Fresno State jumped to the WAC in 1992, San Jose will follow suit in 1996, and Long Beach (1991) and Fullerton (1992) have dropped football.

Still, Farrell said the expansion will improve the overall health of the conference.

"These are four programs on the move upward, and as they advance, we feel they'll bring strength to the conference," Farrell said.

Boise State and Idaho will make the jump to Division I-A football from the I-AA Big Sky Conference. North Texas will make a similar move from the I-AA Southland Conference, and San Luis Obispo will move up from the Division II California Collegiate Athletic Assn. in basketball.

Boise State has averaged more than 19,000 in home attendance for football games in 22,600-seat Bronco Stadium over the last four years, and the school's 12,200-seat basketball arena will be the second largest in the conference, behind New Mexico State, in 1996.

The addition of Boise State also means that former Fullerton men's basketball Coach Bobby Dye, who led the Titans to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals in 1978, and former Irvine men's tennis Coach Greg Patton, will be making regular return trips to Orange County. Both are coaching at Boise State.

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