Grand Canyon University, the private, Christian University in central Phoenix, accepted an invitation to join the Western Athletic Conference Tuesday. The institution will begin the process of reclassification from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I status in time for the 2013-14 athletic calendar.
"This is an historic day in the life of Grand Canyon University," said Brian Mueller, the University's president and chief executive officer. "We have made a commitment to excellence in athletics, just as we have academically, and that commitment has been recognized by the invitation to join the Western Athletic Conference, a conference with a storied past. NCAA Division I status will raise our university's profile and illuminate the great things happening at Grand Canyon."
The men's basketball program, which won three NAIA National Championships (most recently in 1988) is one of the higher profile sports on campus, and the program's head coach couldn't be happier about the move.
"It was a special day over here," head coach Russ Pennell told Arizona Sports 620's Doug and Wolf Tuesday. "Making the announcement, it was a little surreal. We had about five thousand people in the arena and we dropped a banner that had the WAC logo on it and pinched myself to make sure it was true.
"It's an incredible day and this has been going on for the three years that I've been here, we've been trying to lobby to get into a conference. Today it came full circle and we're excited about the work ahead."
Grand Canyon currently competes in the NCAA Division II Pacific West Conference, and will remain eligible for all conference championships and NCAA Division II postseason play this season.
All 22 GCU men's and women's sports will make the jump next year with a chance to grow on their impressive recent performance that saw the Grand Canyon athletic department crowned as the Division II Learfield Sports Directors' Cup in 2011-12.