UT Arlington Takes Step Forward With Start of WAC Membership

UT Arlington’s athletic program transitioned from the Southland Conference to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) on July 1.

After nearly 50 years of membership in the Southland Conference, the Mavericks will play one season in the WAC before joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2013.

UT Arlington’s 14 Division I intercollegiate sports teams will join Denver, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Seattle, Texas State, Utah State and UTSA in the WAC.

The WAC, which started in 1962, has sent at least two teams to the NCAA Tournament in 24 of the past 29 seasons, and the conference has had two baseball national champions since 2003, according to the WAC’s website.

What Joining the WAC Means For UT Arlington

The WAC offers several positives for the school, including a more competitive lineup for the university’s sports teams.

“Our teams are going to have to play better, and we’re going to have to compete at a higher level,” said Jim Baker, UT Arlington’s athletic director.

But being part of the WAC, and later the Sun Belt Conference, will also help further other goals the university has.

Baker, who joined the school in February, mentioned that one of his staff’s initiatives, as well as one of the main missions of the university, is to bring people on campus and get them engaged with the school. That includes current students, alumni and Arlington residents.

“We want kids in the community to grow up and want to play baseball and basketball for UTA,” said Baker, who expressed a desire for the Mavericks to become the college hometown team of Arlington.

Playing higher quality teams will help UT Arlington put an entertaining product on the court and field, which will hopefully attract local families to see the games.

“The big thing is that we want people to be invested in the school and invested in our athletic events,” said Baker, who chose to live in Arlington after accepting his position with UTA.

What UT Arlington’s WAC Membership Means For the City

The WAC and Sun Belt Conference both have teams across the nation, which provides new opportunities to introduce people to Arlington.

“Anytime you’re on TV, especially with the UT Arlington logo, it gives the city exposure,” said Baker, noting that beauty shots of the city could include Cowboys Stadium and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

He also added that Arlington will benefit from the visitors when there are national or regional events on campus.

Tony Rutigliano, executive vice president of the Downtown Arlington Management Corporation, thinks the move to the national conferences will continue to fuel the flames of the excitement that the brand new College Park Center creates.

“UTA Maverick basketball is making a name for itself,” he said. The men’s basketball team had a 24-9 record during the 2011-12 season, losing only once at home.

“We love the spirit that the basketball team creates. Their move into these leagues will grow that spirit even further,” Rutigliano said.