There are many things that Cedar City, Utah is known for. Cedar Breaks, Brianhead Ski Resort, the Utah Summer Olympics just to name a few. But, as you drive North or South along I-15, you will come across the makings of a football stadium that opens up to the beautiful campus of Southern Utah University.
On January 14, 2021, then-commissioner Jeff Hurd made the announcement that five new schools would be joining the WAC. Abilene Christian, Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, Lamar and Southern Utah were making the move to the Western Athletic Conference. ACU, Sam Houston, SFA and Lamar joined as members on July 1, 2021. Southern Utah would wait a year before exiting the Big Sky to join the WAC on July 1, 2022.
“I cannot overstate my level of excitement in making this expansion announcement,” WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd said at the press conference at Houston’s NRG Stadium. “The opportunity to bring five quality institutions into the conference, to significantly strengthen the WAC’s national basketball brand and other championship sport profiles, and to bring football back under the WAC umbrella is one that made sense.”
So, let’s focus on the first of two schools to join the WAC for the 2022-23 season.
Southern Utah University
Cedar City, Utah
Mindy Benson – 2022
Todd Brown – Interim Director
Red and White
America First Event Center – capacity 5,300
It began as Branch Normal School in 1897 before changing its name to Branch Agriculture College in 1913. In 1951, the school changed its name again to College of Southern Utah. And in 1969, the school made another change to Southern Utah State College before landing on Southern Utah University in 1991 where it became an NCAA Division I member and a charter member of the old American West Conference. The SUU men’s basketball team won the American West Conference tournament in both 1995 and 1996. However, the conference did not have an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament so the T-Birds did not play in the postseason.
Following a year as an independent after the American West Conference collapsed, SUU joined The Summit League. And the T-Birds were members for a long time. 16 years to be exact. Technically, it was the Mid-Continent Conference until 2007 when it became the Summit League.
The T-Birds earned their only trip to the NCAA Tournament as members of the Mid-Continent Conference in 2001. Led by Fred House and Jeff Monaco, SUU knocked off Valparaiso to earn a 14-seed at the NCAA Tournament. SUU held its own against 3-seed Boston College but ultimately fell short, 68-65.
In 2012, Southern Utah joined the Big Sky Conference. And in doing so, eliminated baseball and established men’s and women’s tennis in its place.
Football has been at Southern Utah since 1963. The T-Birds have been an Independent, or members of five different conferences in that span of time. Rocky Mountain (1969-1985), Western Football (1986-1992), American West (1993-1995), Independent (1996-2003), Great West (1994-2011), and Big Sky (2012-2021). And now the T-Bird football team is in its six conference in the WAC.
In that time, the T-Birds have won four conference championships. The last coming in 2017 as Big Sky co-champs. That same year, Southern Utah advanced to the second round of the FCS Playoffs before losing to Big Sky rival Weber State, 30-13.
Entering his fifth season as head coach of the Southern Utah men’s basketball team, Todd Simon has put the T-Birds on the map. Southern Utah won the Big Sky regular season championship in 2020-21. And in 2021-22, SUU finished second behind Montana State and clinched a first round bye to the Big Sky Tournament. Under Simon, the T-Birds have won 17-plus games per season including back-to-back 20-plus win seasons in 2020-21 and 2021-22.
Number of Division I Sports Sponsored
M – basketball, cross country, football, golf, track and field
W – basketball, cross country, golf, gymnastics, soccer, softball, track and field, volleyball
Other Things About Southern Utah University:
It is a gateway to Bryce Canyon National Park and is located about 35 minutes North of Zion’s National Park. You can always take some time to ski at the beautiful Brianhead Ski Resort. And if you are there in the Summer, the Utah Summer Olympic Games are hosted in Cedar City. There is also the beautiful Cedar Breaks which offers some stunning views.
Or, you can take part in the Utah Shakespeare Festival which takes place in the Summer and Fall and is held on the SUU campus.
Cedar City is a beautiful area that continues to experience significant growth. It is at the base of the Black Mountains which is ironic considering the red cliffs that are prevalent. Adding Southern Utah creates more rivalries within the WAC especially along the I-15 corridor with Utah Tech and Utah Valley. Adding Southern Utah was a good choice. The football program has had recent success. Men’s basketball is one of the winningest programs in the West since 2020. And the women’s basketball program has found success under Tracy Sanders.
This is a definite step up in the expansion category.