I've been gearing up a lot lately for the first Western Athletic Conference men's basketball game that will take place in Bakersfield on Jan. 4 when CSUB hosts Utah Valley at Rabobank Arena. Putting together all the advertising for this event has led me down one path -- history will be made.
It's historical because it will mark the first time that the CSUB Roadrunners have played a conference basketball game in Bakersfield since making the NCAA Division I transition several years ago. After toiling as an independent program for several years, the day many of us have longed for will finally come upon us.
It's also fitting that we take on Utah Valley University in this first game as well since Utah Valley and CSUB were both selected as new members of the WAC on the same day back in October 2012. The 'Runners and UVU also share a short history together; both programs made the Division I transition about the same time but UVU was making the jump from the junior college ranks, an impressive undertaking that they've seemed to successfully accomplish.
They didn't spend as much time as an independent as Bakersfield did, opting to play in the now defunct Great West men's basketball conference. A conference that didn't include an automatic NCAA Tournament berth, it was mostly a loose-affiliation of teams playing for a championship that guaranteed them a spot in a small lesser-known postseason tournament.
But both schools will meet when history is made on Jan. 4. The Roadrunners have waited nearly seven years for this day to come, a day when we're on an even playing field with the rest of the NCAA ranks, playing for conference championships and ultimately a spot in the grandest tournament of them all, the NCAA Men's Basketball field of 68.
It's always nice to be a part of something for the first time and there have been plenty of firsts in the last several years for the Roadrunners program. This first, however, will be one of the most important events to strike the Kern County sports scene in quite some time.
While this area is no stranger to sports feats that have briefly put us on the map, this one will hopefully lay the groundwork for more notoriety in the years to come. Nothing quite gains national attention like a men's basketball championship and having your name called on "Selection Sunday," which opens the doors for network television to start researching each new school that pops up on the radar for use during national telecasts in March. We could be so fortunate.
While Jan. 4 will be the start of the conference schedule, it's not the end-all-be-all either. There are still 15 WAC games to follow and then the WAC Tournament in Las Vegas in early March. Those three days will determine the winner of the conference's automatic-bid into the NCAA Tournament.
But Jan. 4 is the first time conference play and its heavy ramifications will come to Kern County, winning conference games means a better seed in the conference tournament and a better shot at the carrot at the end of the stick -- the NCAA Tournament.
History will be made. It's not just an ad gimmick created by those of us trying to get people in the seats; it's an invitation to be a part of something that has never been witnessed in this area. It's a chance for fans to factor in during games that really mean something. It's an opportunity for this area to buy into a program that has lofty goals and expectations as we enter the New Year.
For many of us who have been around awhile, it's justification for the endless work that has gone into bringing this sort of basketball to Bakersfield and Kern County. I invite you to join us as well and be a part of history.
This isn't something just for Bakersfield, it's a county-wide call to action; an open invitation to watch a program take their historical first steps in a conference game, all the while making things as loud and uncomfortable as possible for those opponents looking to stand in our way.
COREY COSTELLOE, a Tehachapi High graduate, is Director of New Media and Broadcasting for California State University, Bakersfield.