The University of Wisconsin-Superior is departing the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) to join the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC), according to a press release from the WIAC.
The school will withdraw from the WIAC effective with the 2015-16 academic year.
"It was a surprise," UW-La Crosse Director of Athletics Josh Whitman said. "Certainly I don't think it was something that I was expecting, not something that we had anticipated. But after we talked about it as a group with the other athletic directors, with our commissioner, certainly with our colleagues up in Superior, I started to understand why it made so much sense for them. Certainly don't begrudge them in the decision at all."
“Losing a member, particularly a charter member that has been in the conference for over 100 years, is never a desirable development. However, when you look at all the variables an institution needs to consider with respect to conference affiliation such as enrollment and travel distances, this move is clearly in the best interest of UW-Superior and its athletics program,” WIAC Commissioner Gary Karner said in a statement.
The UW-La Crosse baseball team might be the Eagles' program most directly affected. The WIAC will lose its automatic bid for the NCAA Baseball Tournament. The NCAA minimum for a conference to be given an automatic berth is seven schools; the WIAC will have six schools with baseball teams.
"I don't know right off the top, to be frank, how detrimental that will be to us as a conference. I think it's more of a prestige thing probably than an actual impacted difference. You'd like to be a conference that has an A.Q. I think it says a lot about you as a league," Whitman said.
Without UW-Superior, the WIAC consists of eight full members: UW-Eau Claire, UW-La Crosse, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Platteville, UW-River Falls, UW-Stevens Point, UW-Stout, and UW-Whitewater. Whitman said now is a good time for the conference to begin envisioning what it will look like ten years from now. The league could begin exploring the option of adding an additional member. That begs the question: could he ever see the WIAC adding a school that doesn't begin with "UW?"
"I would think that we would be silly to not say that anything is on the table. Whether that would happen, I think that that's a long-shot, just because it would require us to reconfigure a lot of the philosophical underpinnings of our conference," Whitman said.
UW-Superior will still compete in the WIAC in men's and women's hockey.