UC Irvine's path to the NCAA men's volleyball championship will be considerably less foreboding beginning in 2018, when the Anteaters will compete in a six-team Big West Conference.
The Big West announced the creation of its first men's volleyball conference Tuesday.
UCI will join Long Beach State, Hawaii, UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Northridge and UC San Diego in the six-team alliance, as the Big West becomes the first Division I conference to sponsor competition in men's volleyball.
UCI will compete for the final time next season in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, which includes Pacific-12 members UCLA, Stanford and USC, as well as West Coast Conference representatives Pepperdine and BYU, and Division II program Cal Baptist.
UCI finished eighth in the 12-team MPSF in 2016 and was the final entry in the eight-team conference tournament, the winner of which gains the conference's automatic berth in what is now a six-team NCAA championship tournament. Typically a representative of the MPSF, universally considered the nation's toughest conference, is granted an at-large berth into the NCAA championship.
The winner of the Big West Conference tournament will be an automatic NCAA qualifier, enhancing UCI's chances.
The Big West regular-season schedule will include 10 matches, with each school playing each other twice. All six teams will compete in the single-elimination conference tournament.
UCI has won four of the last 10 NCAA titles (2007, 2009, 2012 and 2013).
Hawaii (2002) is the only other future Big West program to win an NCAA crown.
"The Big West is truly now a volleyball conference as it offers men's, women's and sand," UCI Coach David Kniffin said. "All of these teams have produced consistent levels of success and I look forward to seeing a heightened level of competitiveness that the conference teams will have in the Big West."