Clarifying the Southern University Thunderbirds' Move to the Big Sky Conference

Devon TeepleAnalyst IJanuary 29, 2012

As a lifelong fan of the game, it’s difficult to fathom a school with a history of more than 60 years to change conferences, ultimately forfeiting their baseball program. 

In my recent article about the Southern University Thunderbirds, it was announced by the NCAA, as well as Southern Utah University, that the school was discontinuing the baseball program following the completion of the 2012 baseball season.                 

With a lengthy history and with over 13 players drafted since 1974, a move like this doesn’t make much sense, especially to those looking from the outside. 

I did reach out to Mr. Ken Beazer, SUU’s Athletic Director who took the time to answer some of my questions. 

First was to obviously ask “why would the school move to the Big Sky Conference when they are not a sponsor of baseball as a sport?” 

Ken Beazer:

Southern Utah University's baseball program did move to NCAA Division I status in 1988; however, its baseball history is more robust, dating back to its junior college days in the 60s. 

Our current conference affiliation, The Summit League, is a midwestern conference, making travel extremely difficult and expensive.  Within the Summit League, our closest conference opponent is Oral Roberts located in Tulsa, OK, which is nearly 1,300 miles away from Cedar City, UT. 

The Big Sky Conference provides a much better fit geographically for our programs, which greatly reduces the rigor of travel on our student-athletes and lowers travel costs.  Furthermore, SUU now has geographic rivals within Utah and bordering states, substantially increases fan interest amongst our community. Admission into the Big Sky Conference has been the focus of the University for nearly 20 years. 

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It was mentioned in NCAA press release that this move, “puts the University in a better position to advance its intercollegiate athletics programs.” With the basketball and football programs not really outshining the baseball program in any way, how would this move benefit the school?” 

Redirecting the funding resources from baseball into other programs allows the University to bolster current structural weaknesses within the athletics department and definitely provides a stronger financial foundation for academic and athletic success.

Finally, when it comes to collegiate athletics, did the change have anything to with finances or the baseball program losing too much money? 

The decision to discontinue baseball had nothing to do with the baseball program losing too much money.  The decision was weighed extensively over the past year with regards to many factors, such as: conference affiliation, facilities, support staff and limited financial resources.

When it comes down to it, sports is business and sometimes these decisions are very difficult. I greatly appreciate the assistance of Mr. Beazer in understanding this process. It must have been an extremely arduous decision, but one that ultimately had to be made. 

I wish all the best to the Thunderbirds in their final season and wish all the best to Southern Utah and the future of their athletics department in their new journey.

Devon is the founder of The GM’s Perspective

Devon is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals and Gateway Grizzlies, and is now an independent scout.