SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The University of Pacific will return to the West Coast Conference more than four decades after leaving the league.
Pacific formally accepted an invitation Wednesday to leave the Big West conference and become the 10th school in the WCC. The Tigers will officially join the WCC on July 1, 2013, and start play in nine sports in the 2013-14 academic year.
"It's a very big day," Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich said in a phone interview after the welcoming news conference in Stockton. "Everyone is excited to welcome Pacific back. They're a great fit and add a lot of value for us. The time was right to add a 10th school now."
The WCC had recently expanded to nine schools when BYU officially joined last summer. By adding a 10th team, the league can go back to having travel partners in sports like men's and women's basketball.
Zaninovich said no final decisions have been made in terms of travel partners or scheduling but said there will be an 18-game league schedule in basketball. That should be beneficial to many of the schools that sometimes struggle to find Division I opponents, especially for home games.
The most likely travel option may be to have Pacific partner with one of the three Bay Area schools: San Francisco, Santa Clara or Saint Mary's. With Gonzaga and Portland as partners in the Northwest, and Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine both in the Los Angeles area, BYU would likely team with San Diego as the fifth set of partners.
The schools also must decide whether to change the format of the conference basketball tournament, which currently gives the top two teams in the regular season byes until the semifinals.
The WCC got three teams into this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament in conference champion Saint Mary's, Gonzaga and BYU, and two teams into the women's tournament in champion Gonzaga and BYU.
With recent on-court success and expansion raising the profile of the league, Zaninovich said it is uncertain whether it still makes sense to "protect" the top regular season teams.
"That will be an important discussion," he said. "It's a little different conference than when that model was put in play. We'll have to decide how much to reward the conference season versus other models."
Pacific was a founding member of the California Basketball Association, which later became the WCC, in 1952-53 and remained in the conference until 1971.
Pacific has had success in men's basketball recently, going to three straight NCAA tournaments from 2004-06. The Tigers won first-round games the first two years before losing in overtime to fourth-seeded Boston College in the first round in 2006.
Pacific also won two national championships in women's volleyball in the 1980s.
"We feel that Pacific is coming home by joining the WCC, where we have such a rich history," athletic director Ted Leland said. "We look forward to competing with this amazing set of institutions."
Despite losing Pacific, the Big West will still have 10 schools, all public. Hawaii joins the conference this July and San Diego State joins next summer in all sports but football.
"While no conference wishes for the departure of a member, it is understandable for Pacific to move its athletics programs into the West Coast Conference, which is comprised of all private institutions," commissioner Dennis Farrell said.