Sacramento State softball has a new home for conference games this season: the Big Sky Conference.
The Hornets joined the new league after last season when Sac State finished up nine seasons as a part of the Pacific Coast Softball Conference.
This is not the first time the Hornets have moved to a different conference in Div. I softball. Sac State has been in the Western Athletic Conference from 1993-1996, the Big West Conference in 1997-2002 and the PCSC from 2003-2012.
“The Big Sky is the best conference for Sac State at this point of time,” said Sac State Athletic Director Terry Wanless.
Sac State joins five other teams in the Big Sky Conference’s first season with softball underway. The six teams in the conference are now able to compete for the Big Sky tournament championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Big Sky Commissioner Doug Fullerton said once the Big Sky was able to bring in the six teams, it allowed the Big Sky Conference to create its own conference championship.
“We have a code stating that if the conference has six teams ready to join, then we qualify for a tournament and an automatic bid,” Fullerton said.
In what has been seen in the making for a couple years, the Big Sky officials are excited to not only have softball in their package of sports but to have some similarity in the name of the schools that will be competing with each other.
“It is nice that in the Big Sky Conference, softball will have the same schools that compete this season to be members of the Big Sky in other sports,” Fullerton said.
The new Big Sky softball conference comprises Colorado, Southern Utah, Weber State, University of North Dakota, Portland State, Idaho State and Sac State.
Sac State is transitioning from being in a conference where they would play a four-game series for each conference opponent to a three-game series the Big Sky Conference offers. However, Sac State is relishing the three-game series over the four-game series because the Hornets play a double on a Friday and a single game on Saturday.
“It has been great to add more Sac State teams under the Big Sky Conference umbrella,” Wanless said. “It is really easy to sell to recruits when our sports are continuing to be consolidated in one conference.”
Wanless said the team has to adjust to a new schedule.
“It’s been a good news and bad news thing,” Wanless said. “Good news is that we are under the Big Sky Conference. The bad news is that we have to travel to North Dakota.”
The Big Sky Conference will not accept any affiliate softball programs into its conference if it can help itself. Fullerton said he believes affiliate programs take away from the conference.
Some of the other bigger intercollegiate conferences have filled their conferences with affiliate programs such as the SEC, Big XII and now the ACC.
Affiliate teams are schools that have only one sport in one conference and the other sports in another conference altogether.
However, Wanless is a supporter of affiliates coming into conferences and making a difference in schedule. Sac State was an affiliate in the PCSC for the last 10 years before making the move to the Big Sky Conference.
Wanless said he only wants the student-athletes be able to compete in competitive conferences.
“Everyone feels different about affiliate teams. We have benefited from being affiliate partners in previous conferences,” Wanless said. “The old days of purity among conferences have gone out the door.”
The Big Sky Conference is going to add the University of Idaho and the University of Montana in summer 2014; however, there are still some Big Sky Conference schools that still have not made the choice to make a softball team.
“A lot of schools, like Montana, are seriously looking to add softball as a sport. However, Montana State most likely will not add because of the demographics of its school,” Fullerton said.
Wanless wants to keep the options for Sac State open in the next 10 years because of the ever-changing NCAA landscape.
“Where we are in 10 years is only pure speculation because it depends on how the NCAA adapts to its changes,” Wanless said.
Clifton can be reached on twitter at @jonesSHsports