SUPERIOR, Wis. (UW-SUPERIOR NEWS RELEASE) -- On May 5 the Council of Presidents of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) voted unanimously to approve the University of Wisconsin-Superior for full membership. Yellowjacket sports teams will begin competing in the new conference beginning in the 2015-16 season.
The 2014-15 season will be the final season in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) for Yellowjacket sports teams, ending a 102-year affiliation. Because the UMAC does not sponsor men's and women's ice hockey as varsity sports, the Yellowjacket hockey teams will not be affected by the move and will remain in the WIAC.
"This really is a bittersweet day for us. On the one hand we are excited to see what the future holds in becoming part of a new conference, but on the other hand there is some emotion that comes with leaving the only conference we have been a part of," Athletics Director Steve Nelson said. "We are a charter member of the WIAC and believe me, this isn't a decision that was made lightly or made on a whim. At the end of the day, we had to do what was best for our department. We had to do what was best competitively, financially, and institutionally."
Yellowjacket men's sports teams were part of the State Normal Conference beginning in 1913. The conference would later become known as the Wisconsin State University Conference (WSUC) In 1971 women's sports teams joined the Wisconsin Women's Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WWIAC). The conferences then merged to form the WIAC in 1997. Outside of men's and women's hockey, Yellowjacket sports have only competed in the WIAC.
"For a long time the WIAC was the right fit, and the only fit, for UW-Superior," Nelson said. "Over time that has changed. Our travel is much more significant than any other team in the conference, with our shortest trip being over two hours. It is something that has had an effect on and is a burden to our coaches and student-athletes.
"The size discrepancy cannot be ignored, either. At one time most of the schools in the conference were relatively similar in size. Now most of the schools are four and five times larger than we are. The next smallest school is more than double our size. That kind of discrepancy puts us at a significant disadvantage in terms of funding and resources and we just couldn't continue to do business the same way any longer,so we began to explore our options with the UMAC."
The UMAC is a dramatic departure from the WIAC for UW-Superior. The smallest school in the WIAC, UW-Superior will become the third-largest institution in the UMAC. Travel will also be considerably reduced, with most trips in the conference falling within the window of the shortest trip in the WIAC.
"The travel consideration is a very big part of all this for us. The travel within the UMAC is much more cost effective," Nelson said. "The flip side of that is, with the shorter trips, our student-athletes will spend a lot less time out of the classroom, which is of utmost importance. We pride ourselves on the academic performance of our student-athletes and missing fewer classes because of road trips is only going to enhance that."
The UMAC, with most of its membership based in Minnesota, was founded in 1972 as the Twin Cities Rivers Conference before receiving its current moniker in 1983. UW-Superior will become the ninth member of the conference.
"The UMAC is pleased to add UW-Superior as a full member of our conference. It is clear that UW-Superior embodies the foundational elements of our conference including our mission which recognizes the pursuit of excellence in both academics and athletics," UMAC Commissioner Corey Borchardt said. "To add another member with a similar profile as our current membership and that is geographically located in the footprint of our conference already, is a significant step in the continued fulfillment of our strategic plan and growth as a conference. I look forward to working with UW-Superior administrators, including Chancellor Dr. Renee Wachter and Director of Athletics, Steve Nelson, in further progressing our league as well as their institutional programming and profile."
Other member institutions of the UMAC are Bethany Lutheran College (Mankato, Minn.); Crown College (St. Bonafacious, Minn.); Martin Luther College (New Ulm, Minn.); University of Minnesota-Morris (Morris, Minn.); North Central University (Minneapolis, Minn.); Northland College (Ashland, Wis.); University of Northwestern-St. Paul (St. Paul, Minn.); and the College of St. Scholastica.
"For UW-Superior, this move aligns us with schools that are of similar size and schools that fall more within our recruiting footprint - both from an athletics standpoint and that of the general student population," Nelson said. "And I don't think that I need to say what it means to be in the same conference with St. Scholastica. This is going to significantly fan the fire and provide a lot of energy to an already strong rivalry."
A press conference will be held on Thursday, May 8 at 2:00 p.m. in the mezzanine of the Marcovich Wellness Center on the UW-Superior campus. Mr. Nelson, Mr. Borchardt, UW-Superior Chancellor Dr. Renee Wachter and College of St. Scholastica Athletics Director Don Olson will be in attendance to address the media and visitors as well as answer questions. Guests are asked to park in Lot 13, located adjacent to the Marcovich Wellness Center between UW-Superior and WITC.