BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Western Kentucky University has entered into a membership agreement with Conference USA for its athletic programs beginning on July 1, 2014, university President Dr. Gary Ransdell and Director of Athletics Todd Stewart announced Monday.
Conference USA is an established, nationally prominent athletic conference that sponsors intercollegiate competition in 20 sports. Conference USA will have 16 member institutions in 2013-14, including 14 that compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
Conference USA sponsors competition in 20 sports - nine for men (baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, soccer, tennis and indoor and outdoor track and field) and 11 for women (basketball, cross country, golf, rowing, softball, soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, indoor and outdoor track and field and volleyball).
The league sponsors numerous academic awards, including the Commissioner's Honor Roll and the Commissioner's Academic Medal, indicative of outstanding achievement in the classroom. Conference USA annually awards 12 postgraduate scholarships, along with the Sport Academic Award, Scholar Athletes of the Year and the Institutional Academic Excellence Award. The league also added a Spirit of Service Award, recognizing student-athletes three times a year for a combination of significant community service efforts, good academic standing and participation in their elected sport.
Conference USA membership in 2013-14 will include Charlotte, East Carolina, FIU, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB, UTEP and UTSA, with Charlotte and Old Dominion not competing in football.
In addition to reuniting with current Sun Belt Conference members FIU, Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee and North Texas, beginning in 2014-15 WKU will once again be in a conference with former Sun Belt Conference foes Charlotte, Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion and UAB. Furthermore, WKU and Marshall were founding members of the Ohio Valley Conference in 1948.
Conference USA teams and individuals have made over 650 appearances in NCAA postseason competition since its inception, including 67 bowl game bids for its football programs, 102 men's basketball and 85 women's basketball postseason trips and 57 baseball appearances. The league has also seen 36 volleyball teams, 61 men's and women's soccer teams and 34 softball teams earn NCAA Tournament bids.
Conference USA institutions are among the nation's best in academic performance among student-athletes, bolstered by the fact that student-athletes at league schools have a higher graduation rate than the general student population. Among Conference USA's 5,000 student-athletes, there are champions off the playing field as well. In 17 years, 169 student-athletes earned national Capital One Academic All-America honors, while 588 were named All-District. In addition, more than 22,000 student-athletes have been named to the Commissioner's Honor Roll or received the Commissioner's Academic Medal, indicative of outstanding achievement in the classroom.
Conference USA enjoys significant television exposure through partnerships with FOX Sports Media Group, CBS Sports Network and ESPN. The multi-tiered selection process that is rooted in partnering with all three networks has substantially increased the number of national and regional appearances for football, men's and women's basketball, and all other conference sports.
The upcoming 2013-14 academic year will be WKU's last as a member of the Sun Belt Conference, which it joined prior to the 1982-83 academic year. Currently in its 31st year as a member of the conference, WKU has won the Vic Bubas Cup five times, which is given annually to the member institution gaining the most cumulative points awarded for athletic success in the league's 19 sponsored sports.
Since 2000, WKU has won 86 Sun Belt Conference championships, more than 30 more than the next closest conference school. Also since the year 2000, WKU has committed more than $100 million towards new construction or renovation of athletic facilities, and 85 percent of Hilltopper and Lady Topper student-athletes who have fulfilled their eligibility have graduated.
Sun Belt Conference membership in 2013-14 will include UALR, Arkansas State, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayette, ULM, South Alabama, Texas-Arlington, Texas State, Troy and WKU, with UALR and Texas-Arlington not competing in football.
Prior to joining the Sun Belt Conference in 1982-83, WKU was a founding member of the Ohio Valley Conference and participated in the league for 34 years from the 1948-49 academic year through the spring of 1982.
In addition to sustained athletic success and a commitment to raising the profile of its athletic programs and student-athletes, WKU brings to Conference USA a base of over 100,000 alumni who reside in all 50 states and 50 countries and a prime spot in the national landscape bridging top-50 media markets in Nashville and Louisville.
Western Kentucky University is the fastest-growing university in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and enrollment has grown for 15 consecutive years to a current figure of 21,124 as of the fall semester of 2012.
WKU's men's basketball program is the eighth-winningest in NCAA history in terms of winning percentage, and its 42 conference championships are third-most all-time. The Lady Topper basketball program is one of just 15 women's basketball programs in the nation with over 800 wins to its credit and WKU's football program has produced 70 All-Americans and ranks 26th in the FBS with 527 all-time wins.
Furthermore, WKU's volleyball program has been to five NCAA Tournaments in the last six seasons, WKU track and field and cross country has accounted for 22 conference championships and produced 22 All-Americans since 2008 and the Hilltopper baseball program has averaged 34 wins per season over the last five years and made two NCAA Tournaments.