Breaking up is hard to do
University of Charleston President Dr. Ed Welch said there are pros and cons for his school and the other West Virginia Conference member in the Kanawha Valley - West Virginia State - in joining a new conference.
The nine schools that play football in the West Virginia Conference, including UC and State, announced Monday they are exploring options in forming a new league.
The real payoff will be on the football side, where scheduling would be made easier with a conference whose members all play the sport. In addition, the WVC doesn't get an automatic bid for its conference champion into the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Welch and the Golden Eagles felt that sting a couple of seasons ago when UC compiled a 9-2 record but was left out of the football playoffs. The Golden Eagles added Tusculum (Tenn.) to the schedule, which the year before was nationally ranked, but only won a couple of games the season it played UC.
"It helps you with strength of schedule,'' said the UC president. "We thought we had scheduled a team that would help us and in fact it hurt us. I think it would make it easier to schedule because you just schedule each other.
"You wouldn't have to find another independent school someplace that has a vacant date on the weekend that matches your vacant date. You have to make sure whatever evolves out of these conversations you want to have an automatic qualifying berth for your championship teams.''
Welch said for other sports the benefits are unclear.
"For a sport like basketball, how many nonconference contests would we schedule and would we then play Alderson-Broaddus, which has been part of the conference," he pondered, "or would the schools that used to be in the same conference say no, we don't want to play these schools that left us?
"The breaking up of friendships and rivalries and partnerships that go back a long ways, that's tough. It's hard to see that happen.''
Welch said for UC and State, though, the marketing possibilities for their programs to other regions would be endless.
"I think the opportunity to play in other states and venues is a plus because you share the word about West Virginia State and UC to people in a different locale,'' he said. "That could be helpful in recruiting, and if it's an area where we're already recruiting then it's a plus that the parents would get to see their children play.''
Welch said there are still plenty of questions that must be answered before any such move to a new conference.
"It's probably going to cost a little more money,'' he said. "Are there enough teams to have a championship in every sport? The level of competition is probably going to rise.
"You have to make the decision to step up and do that. What does that mean? Do you recruit better athletes or do you have to do something different? The hope is you have a higher visibility in Division II because you'll have a powerful conference that's making a name for itself.''
Of course, cost and money will be at the heart of any new conference. The three private institutions (Seton Hill, West Virginia Wesleyan and UC) among the nine WVC schools that play football were 1-2-3 in revenue and expenditures during the 2010-11 year.
Welch said those numbers are misleading to an extent for the private schools. He said while UC ranks third in athletic revenues and expenses at $4.8 million and $4.75 million, respectively, that doesn't mean the school is spending more on athletics than any of the other public institutions.
Welch explained that if a package for tuition and room and board at UC costs $35,000 per year and the same package is $15,000 at a public institution, then UC adjusts its price to be in line with the public schools. So it's not as if UC is spending $20,000 per year on its 200 athletes for a total of $4 million or so per year.
"It looks like we're spending a lot of money on athletics,'' said the UC president. "In fact we're discounting that price for them. Public institutions have waivers. For example, they can waive so many and they don't have to count that for financial aid. If we did that we'd have to count it.
"We're not spending as much money as it appears. It's the privates, especially those that don't have football, that are stretched to spend the money and have healthy athletic programs. I think it undergirds the difficulty of having a public and private conference. The formulas apply to public and private very differently.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.