GSAC alters lineup

Vanguard University Athletic Director Bob Wilson said the positives outnumber negatives when it comes to the reformation of the Golden State Athletic Conference, and increased conference championship opportunities for the Lions are foremost among the former.

After the 2011-12 school year, Azusa Pacific, Fresno Pacific and Point Loma Nazarene left the conference to join the NCAA Division II ranks, just as former GSAC member Cal Baptist did one year earlier.

The seven remaining GSAC schools — Vanguard, Biola, Concordia, Hope International, San Diego Christian, The Master's and Westmont — will be joined by incoming member Arizona Christian in an eight-team alliance beginning in 2012-13.

"We don't like that those schools left, because we had a great tradition and camaraderie with those schools, and I think those schools feel the same way," Wilson said. "But I think structurally, in terms of operational budgets and in terms of scholarship allotments, the eight schools that remain are closer to one another."

Since the conference was established in 1986, GSAC members have won 23 NAIA team championships in seven women's sports and 18 national team titles in five men's sports. Of the combined 41 team national championships won by the conference, 32 were claimed by the four recent defectors.

Azusa Pacific won 13 men's and seven women's team NAIA titles, while Fresno Pacific amassed a combined total of nine.

Only Vanguard (women's basketball in 2008), Concordia (men's basketball in 2012 and 2013, baseball in 2011 and women's cross country in 2000), and Westmont (women's soccer in 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2003) have won NAIA titles among the current conference members.

"I think the stance [among the remaining conference members] is that the teams that have left demonstrated a lot of competitive excellence, winning championships and being able to compete at a high level nationally," Wilson said. "I think the conference will still be viewed from that perspective nationally, though there will probably be fewer of our teams in the [postseason]. If you are good enough to be competitive in our conference, you're good enough to compete nationally."

Going from a 10-team conference to an eight-team conference will have ramifications when it comes to qualifying for NAIA postseason competition.

Wilson said NAIA conferences with 10 teams get two automatic berths into the NAIA tournaments in basketball, baseball and various other sports. Now, the conference will earn only one automatic berth.

The sport most damaged by fewer conference teams will be softball, which is played by only five current GSAC members. With fewer than six teams, the GSAC will receive no automatic postseason bid and instead will need to qualify with other representatives from smaller conferences that will combine to compete for one automatic playoff berth.

Wilson said the schools that left were a good fit for the NCAA Division II level. They are all members of the Pacific West Conference that includes four schools in Hawaii, four in Northern California, one in Arizona and one in Utah.

He said all GSAC schools weighed input from a consulting firm hired by the conference in 2009 about a potential shift to NCAA Division II. But the schools that remain in the GSAC believed that competing with smaller, faith-based schools, mostly in Southern California, served them best.

Wilson also said that the eight teams that make up the GSAC have an unwritten agreement to remain in the conference for a period of at least three years.

"That's not to say we may not add another school," Wilson said. "But in terms of expansion, the presidents have decided that instead of a sprint, they want to make it a marathon."

Leading the conference moving forward will be newly hired commissioner Mike Daniels. Daniels, formerly the associate commissioner of the Big West Conference, becomes the GSAC's first full-time commissioner. He replaces Cliff Hamlow.

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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