Aztecs return to the Big West

A development that has gone from murmurings to rumors to a foregone conclusion has finally become official as of today: San Diego State is bringing its 14 non-football sports to the Big West in July of 2013. SDSU is a founding member of the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, the Big West’s forefather, so the move is actually a return to Aztec roots.

Back when all of this national realignment madness first began, I remember thinking that SDSU coming to the Big West was a pipe dream. Their basketball team is achieving national prominence, their football team is improving, UCSD was brought up as an expansion possibility… fortunately the BCS football world is pure insanity and the Big EAST has thrown caution and geography to the wind by reaching out to SDSU, about as west and far away from the northeast as you can get.

It seems that most everyone currently in the conference is ecstatic about adding a basketball team that just made a run to the Sweet Sixteen. Big West teams just don’t make it that far in the Big Dance. Just winning one game in March Madness would be considered a milestone accomplishment.

Some Aztec fans (which represent a strong number) are upset at the prospects of playing against teams with such small gyms, but SDSU officials are happy with the move due to the convenience factor in geography, as well as the ESPN deal that the Big West has and the Mountain West does not. Also, coach Steve Fisher seems to believe that the SDSU basketball program can stand on its own, and find success no matter what conference the Aztecs are in.

A quick rundown of what this move means for the Big West, at least off of the top of my head:

  • Immediately the best basketball arena in the conference, Viejas Arena. Opened in 1997, it seats 12,414. This narrowly beats the other new member of the Big West, Hawaii, whose Stan Sheriff Center seats 10,300 and opened in 1994. Viejas dwarfs high school-esque gyms at schools like Cal State Fullerton, UC Riverside, and Cal State Northridge.
  • San Diego market exposure. I mentioned this in a previous post, but wanted to expound on the fact. SDSU is the premier basketball attraction in San Diego. There is no NBA team nor bigger Pac-10 team. Even people who have no personal association to SDSU become Aztec fans, just because it’s the cool thing to do. That happens to basically zero of the current Big West schools.
  • A true high profile coach in the conference. Say what you want about Long Beach State coach Dan Monson and his time at Gonzaga… but he’s no Steve Fisher. Fisher is the former Michigan coach who recruited the “Fab Five.”
  • A Cooperstown Hall of Fame manager in Tony Gwynn, who has had mediocre teams dotted with big-time major league prospects such as Stephen Strasburg.
  • A new traveling partner for UC Irvine, which probably doesn’t have much of an impact but it’s still worth mentioning. When teams play UCI on Thursday/Saturday, they’ll play SDSU on Saturday/Thursday of the same week.
  • A rising tide raising all boats in terms of competition. Like with Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference, the draw of playing SDSU and Hawaii will hopefully raise recruiting and the profile of the conference as a whole, given that SDSU stays long enough for this effect to occur.

Coincidentally, I wrote a story about SDSU basketball for rushthecourt.net recently. Check it out here for a slightly more in-depth look at their program.

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