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Nine WVC schools to join new league

The West Virginia Conference's obituary was written Monday.

The presidents of 12 universities - including nine WVC schools, two in Ohio and one in Virginia - jointly announced the formation of a new all-sports collegiate athletic conference, which will be called the Mountain East Conference.

The new 12-team league's charter membership will include longtime WVC members Concord, Fairmont State, Glenville State, Shepherd, the University of Charleston, West Liberty, West Virginia State, Wheeling Jesuit and West Virginia Wesleyan. Notre Dame College (Ohio), Virginia-Wise and Urbana (Ohio) round out the members.

The Mountain East Conference intends to begin competition for the 2013-14 academic year. The move will not affect any athletic schedules for 2012-13.

WVC commissioner Barry Blizzard, who has headed the league the past 26 years, declined comment Wednesday when contacted by the Gazette.

WVC schools not included in the new conference are Bluefield State, which revived its long-dormant football program this year, Davis & Elkins and Ohio Valley, which do not have football.

Alderson-Broaddus, which is scheduled to begin a football program as a club sport this year, announced Sunday it had accepted an invitation to join the Division II Great Midwest Athletic Conference for the 2013-14 academic year.

Pennsylvania-based Pitt-Johnstown and Seton Hill, which have been WVC members since 2007, are expected to accept invitations to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.

"I think the new conference will be great for our student-athletes,'' said UC president Dr. Ed Welch. "We're excited to be a part of it.

"It assures we can continue to play football, which was an important criteria for us. There have been a lot of conversations about a lot of ways this could develop. There was no solution that was going to satisfy everybody.''

The WVC was organized in 1924 and originally included West Virginia and Marshall.

"I think this is a unique opportunity for those who are participating in the formation of a new conference,'' added first-year West Virginia State president Brian Hemphill. "I think for one, it's going to allow schools that have similar focus to be together in one conference.''

The WVC began exploring its options in June when the nine football-playing members, including UC and West Virginia State, agreed to take a look at forming a new conference and hoped to add three more schools.

Then earlier in July, nine schools met in Princeton, but the only football-playing members that attended were UC, State and West Virginia Wesleyan. Those nine reaffirmed their commitment to rebuild the WVC in a way that makes sure it meets the needs of its members and continue the unity of the conference.

Conversations continued July 21 about reshaping the league with all 15 schools represented in person or by phone in a special meeting to elect board members during the athletic directors' retreat at UC. However, not all presidents participated.

The discontent of the football schools has been brewing for some time. The nine football-playing institutions wanted to expand into bordering states in order to strengthen the league and increase its marketability, but have been met with resistance from the non-football schools reluctant to see the accompanying increase in travel for their sports.

The issue came to a head March 1 when the league tried to expand and bring in Virginia-Wise, which plays football. The nine football schools supported the move, but under WVC bylaws, a two-thirds majority vote was necessary. That's 10 votes and the measure failed.

"It's always tough to see that kind of change,'' Welch said. "It's difficult to see the breakup of long-term playing relationships.''

Welch said it's ideal to have a conference with 11 football members as scheduling becomes increasingly more difficult.

"[It] means that 10 of your playing dates are taken care of,'' he said.

The WVC also sponsors the longest continuously held basketball tournament in the country, which has been held in Charleston since 1960.

Welch said it's too early to tell if the men's and women's basketball tournaments will continue at the Civic Center.

"I have no idea,'' he said. "There are still nine West Virginia schools in the conference. We'll just have to wait and see how it works out.

"There's consultants providing assistance for the new conference and they might have ideas to where the venues should be.''

UVa-Wise and Urbana were slated to compete in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference beginning in 2013, and Notre Dame is an NCAA Division II Independent competing in five of its 22 sports as an affiliate member of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Wise has been accepted into the NCAA membership process and will compete within NCAA Division II in 2013 while pursuing full membership, while the other 11 schools in the Mountain East are all Division II members.

The Mountain East will meet the NCAA requirement for a conference championship in 16 sports - men's and women's basketball, baseball, men's and women's cross country, football, men's and women's golf, men's and women's soccer, softball, men's and women's tennis, men's and women's track and volleyball.

The Mountain East will have 12 basketball-playing members and 11 football-only schools.

Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at tatkinson@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4811.

 


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