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College sports: UWS seeks to join UMAC

After more than 100 years as a member of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference,

Wisconsin-Superior could be on the move.

The school applied to join the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference earlier this year, and a vote by the league’s Council of Presidents is expected by June 1.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported the story on its website, which the News Tribune confirmed Monday with UWS athletic director Steve Nelson.

Asked Monday to clarify the reasons for seeking a new conference, Nelson was tight-lipped.

“There are a lot of reasons, but I’d have to wait until we get through the process,” he said. “We have made an application.”

The reasons appear to be both financial and competitive. By far the smallest school in the challenging WIAC, UWS’ enrollment is just under 2,500. The other eight WIAC schools range from 6,819 (River Falls) to 13,513 (Oshkosh). Consequently, aside from hockey, competing hasn’t always been easy for Yellowjacket teams.

In baseball, for example, UWS won its lone league title in 1966. Its last championship in men’s basketball came in 1941, and the women’s basketball squad has yet to capture a title. It should be noted, though, that the school has enjoyed more success of late.

Additionally, travel would be greatly reduced in the UMAC, which features eight full members including Twin Ports rival St. Scholastica. Seven of the schools are in Minnesota; the other, Northland College, is in Ashland.

“They have three trips in the WIAC that are more than 300 miles,” WIAC commissioner Gary Karner told the Journal Sentinel. “Their average trip would be 186 (in the UMAC) compared to 247 in our league. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you multiply that over the number of trips in all the sports it is significant.”

Even if the upcoming vote swings in UWS’ favor, the school’s men and women will continue to compete in the newly created WIAC hockey leagues.

This process began with a formal application to the UMAC, and included site visits and a formal presentation from the school, which also had to pay an unannounced fee to get the ball rolling.

“We don’t disclose that,” UMAC commissioner Corey Borchardt said.

Because of the calendar, UWS likely wouldn’t change conferences until at least 2015-16.

“Just based upon scheduling — if they were admitted; obviously, that’s the first part — they would not begin until 2015-16 at the earliest,” Borchardt said. “It could obviously be later if the Council of Presidents would dictate so.”

A “yes” vote from six of the eight board members is required to approve the move.

If its bid is successful, UWS would go from being the smallest school enrollment-wise in the WIAC to the third-largest in the UMAC, behind only St. Scholastica and Northwestern College.

Karner told the Journal Sentinel he has no plans to pursue a replacement if UWS leaves.