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July 10, 2008NJIT is one of six institutions that have joined the expansion of the Great West Conference to form a Division I all-sports league that will conduct championship competition in several sports in 2008-09 and then begin full conference scheduling and championships in 2009-10.
The Great West, which has existed for four years as a football-only league in the NCAA's Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as I-AA), is expanding into an all-sports league with the addition of NJIT, Texas-Pan American, Utah Valley, Houston Baptist, University of North Dakota and University of South Dakota.
The all-sports version of the Great West Conference will eventually offer championships in 14 sports, 11 of which are sponsored by NJIT, including: men's and women's basketball; baseball; women's volleyball; women's tennis; men's and women's cross country; men's and women's indoor track and field; and, men's and women's outdoor track and field.
Cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field championships are planned for 2008-09, with the full complement scheduled to kick in the following year in 2009-10.
NJIT, Texas-Pan American and Utah Valley have been playing each other in multiple sports, including home-and-home games in men's and women's basketball, since NJIT began competing against Division I competition for the first time in 2006-07.
NJIT and Utah Valley are scheduled to complete their NCAA reclassification and become active championship-eligible members of NCAA Division I in 2009-10. North Dakota and South Dakota will be active members of Division I in 2012-13 and Houston Baptist will arrive in 2014-15. Texas-Pan American has been an active Division I program for many years.
The expanded conference is not eligible for automatic Division I championship postseason qualification, but will offer the benefit of conference championship competition, stable scheduling opportunities in all conference sports and individual recognition for student-athletes through weekly and season all-conference recognition. The individual awards programs for student-athletes will begin in 2008-09.
NJIT's sports that do not come under the Great West umbrella will continue in their existing conferences--men's soccer in the Atlantic Soccer Conference, women's soccer in the United Soccer Conference and men's volleyball in the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association, which has an automatic NCAA postseason berth, which was claimed this year by eventual 2008 national champion, Penn State.
In addition, NJIT will continue to schedule competition against top non-conference regional and national opponents. Two NJIT opponents--Maryland in men's soccer and Penn State in men's volleyball have won national championships following seasons in which they faced the Highlanders. Meanwhile, NJIT teams will continue to compete regularly with opponents from the Big East, Atlantic 10, America East, Ivy League, Patriot League, MAAC and Northeast Conference.
Here is a sample of reaction from key NJIT personnel regarding the Highlanders' participation in the Great West Conference expansion:
Robert Altenkirch, NJIT President: "We are pleased to gain membership in the Great West as it expands to an all-sports conference and formalize some of the scheduling ties we have built as an independent since we first began facing Division I competition in all sports in 2006-2007. Joining a conference enhances NJIT athletics as we continue to build our young NCAA Division I athletics program. It provides conference championship competition for our student-athletes and alleviates the difficulties of trying to schedule as an independent when conference-affiliated teams play a conference schedule, especially for basketball in late January and February. At the same time, we will continue playing attractive non-conference opponents on a regional and national level."
Lenny Kaplan, NJIT Director of Athletics: "An idea of Division I independents joining together was first touched on three years ago. I am glad Commissioner (Ed) Grom has the foresight to take us the next step. Joining the Great West will assist in the continued growth of our programs as we continue the move toward full division membership. It is important for our student athletes to have opportunities for awards recognition and conference championships. It gives our coaches-especially basketball- some scheduling certainty, especially during the winter months of January and February."
Margaret McKeon, women's basketball coach: "Being part of the Great West Conference will give us another chance to be tested in the 2009-10 season. We will already be facing some formidable opponents during the first half of that season, and when conference play begins in January, we will be going up against the likes of the University of North Dakota and the University of South Dakota, both of which already had winning programs in Division II and continue to be tough competition in Division I. I am looking forward to it."
Jim Engles, men's basketball coach: "Every student-athlete is looking for the chance to compete for a championship. With the formation of this league, everyone will look forward to competing for the conference championship."
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