By Tony Viola, Sports Editor
On June 18th, nine schools contacted WVIAC commissioner Barry Blizzard to inform him of their intentions to withdraw from the West Virginia Conference and form a new regional all-sports conference.
The University of Charleston, Concord University, Fairmont State University, Glenville State College, Seton Hill University, Shepherd University, West Liberty University, West Virginia State University, and West Virginia Wesleyan made up the nine of the 15 schools in the conference that will be departing.
The move is not scheduled to take place until the 2013-14 academic year.
”It is a devastating blow,” Blizzard told MetroNews Talkline. ”If the WVIAC is to survive, some schools must be added immediately. I don’t know where they would come from. The future of this league is very much in jeopardy right now.”
Reid Amos, Vice President of Broadcasting at West Liberty and spokesman for the new conference, said the move was fueled by the desire to create a conference of like-minded football playing schools.
“There’s been a growing divide between the institutions that play football and the majority of the others that do not,” Amos said. “This is not a new discussion. There have been rumors going back for more than a decade that this league could split.”
“The intent of a new conference is to align like-minded institutions in terms of budget and goals,” the presidents of the nine institutions said in a joint statement. ”We strongly believe that a twelve-member all sports conference creates a solid foundation for its membership. The investment required for an all-sports league will level the playing field for all of its member institutions while positioning its members for growth.”
The new conference has yet to be named.
But some schools are saying the decision is far from final. On the day the announcement was made, University of Charleston President Dr. Ed Welch told MetroNews his school had not yet made a final decision about its conference affiliation.
“That’s a decision yet to be made,” Dr. Welch said. “There are some good arguments for developing the new conference and there are some good arguments for the tight relationships that we have with the other private colleges in West Virginia.”
President Welch says he was only asked if UC would be interested in such a move. “We’re looking at it. We’re interested in it. I want to be part of the conversations. I don’t want to be out of the conversation, but this has happened rather quickly,” Welch said.
The move will leave the current 15 member WVC with six members; Alderson-Broaddus, Bluefield State, Davis & Elkins, Ohio Valley University, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, and Wheeling Jesuit University.
Davis and Elkins President Buck Smith told MetroNews the way the six remaining schools in the WVC were notified at the same time the development was released to the media.
”You would think the participants in the conference would have some advance notice about it,” Smith said. ”If this is the way those schools want to operate – that’s just fine. Some of us that have a little greater sense of civility and integrity will operate in a quality standard that we’re accustomed to.”
President Smith went on to say that a president of one of the nine schools withdrawing from the conference was also surprised with the release of the information. Smith says West Liberty President Robin Capehart and Amos made the announcement “before the ink was put on the paper, let alone dry.”
Smith wasn’t the only one with some criticism about the split. The athletics director at Wheeling Jesuit, Danny Sancomb, said in an email from the school, ”The decision by some members of the WVIAC to form a new conference appears to have been made largely for financial reasons and seems to have taken the focus off the student-athlete.”
The West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference was formed in 1924 and included West Virginia University and Marshall University as charter members. The conference also has one of the longest running basketball tournaments in the country. The WVC post season basketball championship tournament has run continuously since 1936. It predates both the NCAA Tournament (1939) and the NIT (1938.)
The nine institutions plan to submit required documentation to the NCAA before December 1, 2012.