Ten NCAA Teams Changing Conferences or Reclassifying to Division I

When the season gets under way next month, these ten schools will begin a new chapter

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From a late start to limited travel to empty arenas, the upcoming college basketball season will be a little different for everyone. But for ten teams, those differences will be even greater. Six Division I schools will be changing conferences this year, and four former Division II teams will be making their Division I debuts. Here’s what each of those changes will look like.

Teams changing conferences

CSU Bakersfield: From WAC to Big West

Bakersfield spent seven seasons in the WAC after previously being independent. The Roadrunners never won the league, but they finished in the top three in six straight seasons before a sixth-place finish last year. This transition was planned long before the pandemic, but it will work out nicely for the Roadrunners this year as it will significantly cut down on travel. Bakersfield’s WAC schedule involved facing eight other teams from eight different states, including a 2,000-mile trip to Chicago State, while nine of the other ten teams in this year’s Big West are in-state opponents. The Roadrunners will still have one out-of-state trip, but it’s one that they probably won’t complain about: Hawaii.

NJIT: From ASUN to America East

Like CSU Bakersfield, NJIT began it’s time in Division I as an independent. The Highlanders have struggled ever since moving to the Atlantic Sun Conference prior to the 2015-16 season, never winning more than four league games. This move could be just what they need to jump-start the program, as there should be more wins to be had in the America East. The ASUN was the 14th-ranked league by RPI last season, led by top-50 stalwart Florida Gulf Coast. The America East, ranked 27th, will more closely match NJIT’s level of competition.

UConn: From AAC to Big East

UConn is the biggest name of the bunch. The disbandment of the old Big East in 2013 pushed the Huskies to the American Athletic Conference, where they never lost a game. This season, Geno Auriemma’s squad will make its much-anticipated return to the Big East, albeit a new version of the Big East. UConn will undoubtedly be the league favorites, but don’t expect the Huskies to have another seven seasons without a conference loss. The league had four of the top 50 in our Her Hoop Stats Rating last season, including a DePaul team that gave the Huskies a run for their money in a 10-point loss last December that was as close as four with seven minutes to go.

Robert Morris: From NEC to Horizon League

After winning a regular-season title in each of head coach Charlie Buscaglia’s first four seasons at the helm, Robert Morris may have outgrown the Northeast Conference. The NEC — ranked in the bottom five of the conference RPI in each of the last seven seasons — didn’t give the Colonials many opportunities to prepare for the postseason, which they were on their way to reaching for the fifth straight season last year before the pandemic canceled all postseason events. Buscaglia has the program on the rise, and 2019-20 was his best season yet as his squad posted a 22-7 record and finished in the top 25 of our Her Hoop Stats Defensive Rating. The Horizon League produced two top-60 teams in our ratings last season and is a logical next step for this program.

Purdue Fort Wayne: From Summit League to Horizon League

The Mastodons will join Robert Morris in the Horizon League, but in the case of Purdue Fort Wayne, it will be more about geography than competition. Niecee Nelson’s team was the only Summit League squad in the Eastern Time Zone but will be much more centrally located in its new league. This move will also reunite the Mastodons with in-state rival IUPUI. The two I-69 mid-majors spent a decade doing battle in the Summit from 2007 to 2017 before the Jaguars moved to the Horizon League three years ago.

Kansas City: From WAC to Summit League

The Summit will replace Purdue Fort Wayne with Kansas City, which should raise the level of competition in the league. The Roos were an afterthought until junior college transfer Ericka Mattingly arrived in 2018 and helped to turn things around. She capped off her career by being named to the Becky Hammon Award watch list and leading her team to a regular-season title in its final season in the WAC. She’s gone, but returning are three of the next four players in minutes played last season. Head coach Jacie Hoyt also brings in two top-50 JUCO players, including Second Team All-American Paige Bradford. If they can follow in Mattingly’s footsteps, the Roos could bring some competition to the South Dakota schools that have owned the Summit in recent years.

Teams reclassifying to Division I

Division I will add four teams for the 2020-21 season. Due to NCAA regulations, these teams will not be postseason eligible until their fifth season (2024-25). Dixie State and Tarleton State will replace Bakersfield and Kansas City in the WAC, Bellarmine will take NJIT’s spot in the ASUN, and UC San Diego will join Bakersfield in the expanded Big West. All but Dixie State finished in the top 75 of our HHS Rating in Division II last season, but the headliner is UC San Diego. Led by head coach Heidi VanDerveer — the younger sister of legendary Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer — the Tritons finished their time in Division II with five straight conference titles in the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA), including a 30-0 start to the 2018-19 season before a loss in the NCAA Tournament. Division II All American Julia Macabuhay will enter her junior season as a candidate to lead the Big West in scoring.

Unless otherwise linked, stats and information for this piece were taken from ncaa.org and each university’s official athletics website.


Thanks for reading the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter. If you like our work, be sure to check out our stats site, our podcast, and our social media accounts on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram. You can also buy Her Hoop Stats gear, such as laptop stickers, mugs, and shirts!

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