Big West celebrates 25th season


There’s the Big Eight and the Big Ten, but what is the Big West? Even more mind boggling is how did NIU manage to become affiliated with that conference?

Perhaps a little background would be appropriate.

The conference was originally founded in 1969 making this season its silver anniversary celebrating 25 years of existence. Back then, however, it was known as the Pacific Coast Athletic Association and consisted of all California teams participating in the sport of football.

The seven original schools were Cal State, Los Angeles; Fresno State, Long Beach State and San Diego State from of the California Collegiate Athletic Association; San Jose State; UC, Santa Barbara and Pacific of the West Coast Athletic Conference.

The CCAA was unhappy with being a college circuit and wanted to make the next step to the university ranks of college football. The WCAC on the other hand, was struggling to keep its conference football program above water. This is what brought the two together to form the PCAA on July 1, 1969.

The conference has gone through many changes since then, basically starting in the 70s and continuing through the 80s to the present.

In 1974 Cal State, Fullerton joined the PCAA and increased the number of football playing schools to eight. It didn’t stay that way for long, when in 1975, UCSB and CSLA dropped their football programs and SDSU’s football program moved to a new conference.

Membership increased in 1977 when UC Irvine joined, UCSB came back and Utah State became the first school outside California to join the PCAA.

Expansion in the early 80s brought the number up to 10 with the additions of Nevada-Las Vegas in 1981 and New Mexico State in 1984.

On July 1, 1988 the PCAA changed its name to the Big West.

“We decided that the PCAA wasn’t the proper name for the conference since we stretched all the way to the Rocky Mountains,” said Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell.

The football programs at Long Beach, Cal State Fullerton were dropped and UC Irvine eventually left the conference and in 1992 Fresno State left and was replaced by Nevada.

The membership stood at seven schools until May 14, 1992. That’s when they sent invitations to NIU, Arkansas State, Louisiana Tech and Southwestern Louisiana to begin play in the 1993 season.

“Out of necessity we needed to do something to preserve the state of football in the Big West Conference,” said Farrell.

The addition of these four schools gives the Big West more national exposure and more stability now that there are ten teams competing for a conference championship. That champion will receive an automatic bowl bid to play in the Las Vegas Bowl against the Mid-American conference champ.

In the future the league is hoping to attract more eastern schools to the pool so a divisional format can be set up. The idea is to get six western and six eastern teams to each have a champ and those two will play to decide who goes to the Las Vegas Bowl.

“With that happening, the Big West Conference may become a misnomer like the PCAA did, but you have my word that we will always stay west of the British Isles,” said Farrell.

There have been some big names that have gone from the Big West to the ranks of professional football. They include NFL Rookie of the Year players Dennis Shaw (SDSU), Terry Metcalf (LBSU), Ickey Woods (UNLV) and Johnny Johnson (SJSU).

In 1988 former UNLV Runnin‘ Rebel Randall Cunningham was named NFL’s player of the year for the Philadelphia Eagles. Among the pro-bowlers to come out of the Big West are Henry Ellard (FSU), Rulon Jones (USU) and Mike Merriweather (UOP).