Sometimes it’s hard to imagine what motivated 8,063 fans to pack into the then-one-year-old McKay Events Center in January 1997 for a National Junior College Athletic Association basketball game.
Then again, Utah Valley State College students had the opportunity to experience something relatively new—a state-of-the-art home venue where they could admire the efforts of their peers—and they set a NJCAA single-game attendance record doing so.
Fast forward more than 17 years later, and UVU not only competes in NCAA Division I but in the Western Athletic Conference.
Most recently, because they won the WAC regular-season title, the Wolverine men’s basketball team participated in the National Invitation Tournament.
Although UVU was bounced in the first round, the university will receive tournament revenue equivalent to one share unit “from ticket sales, sales of radio and/or television broadcast rights, sale of Internet rights, and from any other source connected with the tournament,” according to the NIT Team Manual.
Besides the monetary gain, the Wolverines’ game against the University of California Berkeley was their first broadcast on ESPN3. Not only has the WAC provided the stage for UVU to qualify for national events and increase financial gain from athletics, but it is also helping develop its overall exposure.
ESPN, along with essentially every national media outlet consumed by sports, retransmitted footage of the UVU-New Mexico State brawl—a scene not ideal for shaping the public’s knowledge concerning an institution, however, informative in its own right, nonetheless—and it was because the Wolverines compete in the WAC that the possibility was afforded.
Just six years ago, a landmark transition welcomed UVU to the Great West Conference. The Wolverines responded by winning all four of the GWC Commissioner’s Cups, an award given for the best performance in conference-sponsored sports.
Last fall, UVU men’s cross-country took home the school’s first WAC championship and followed up the feat by running in the Mountain Region Championships against eventual national champion Colorado. The women’s team also took part in the event.
The Wolverine wrestling team broke a school record by sending four grapplers to nationals. UVU track & field looks poised to continue its historic momentum by sending representatives to the NCAA First and Second Rounds in late May.
Since officially becoming a member of the WAC July 1, 2013, Wolverine athletics continue to seize unique chances presented by their new affiliation.
A lot can be said about the automatic NCAA qualifying berths within the grasp of almost every UVU sport. Still, it’s the change in culture—a once overlooked athletic program because of the private institution located south of Orem and the public institution up north—that best demonstrates the importance of the move to the WAC.
UVU baseball and softball currently each sit in second in the league and get more cracks at taking down those surrounding institutions at home this season.
While it will be a tall task for either to qualify for the NCAA regionals by winning the conference, the fact that the possibility is within reach is enough to have enhanced the Wolverines’ athletic identity
Kyle is a junior at UVU, studying journalism. He works at KSL as a writer/content manager and previously wrote for weareutahjazz.com. He is originally from Colorado Springs, Colo., where most of his family resides. In his free time Kyle enjoys hiking, playing the sports he writes about, reading and obsessively following his professional teams, to which he is unwaveringly loyal. You can follow him @kyledspencer.