The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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College Sports

August 21, 2012

Concord among schools in new conference

12 outgoing WVIAC members will form Mountain East Conference starting next year

ATHENS — The colleges and universities that are leaving the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference at the end of June now have a new home — sort of.

At least they have a name for their new league, and some new partners.

Twelve schools, including Concord University, announced Monday they are forming the Mountain East Conference (MEC), to begin play about a year from now.

“The big picture now is coming into focus,” said Concord Director of Athletics Kevin Garrett.

Concord will be joined by fellow WVIAC schools Fairmont State University, Glenville State College, Shepherd University, West Liberty University, West Virginia State University, West Virginia Wesleyan College, Wheeling Jesuit University and the University of Charleston.

In addition, the Mountain East will include the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, and two Ohio institutions, Urbana University and Notre Dame College headquartered in the Cleveland suburb of Euclid.

Garrett said the announcement is another milestone in a process to create a competitive all-sports conference.

“I think it goes a long, long way to show the commitment of these 12 institutions to join together ... with like-minded institutions, and really give our students a great opportunity for academic as well as athletic success,” he said.

The schools will remain in their current conferences until next summer, when the Mountain East is expected to qualify as a conference within the NCAA.

There was no mention in Monday’s announcement about where the MEC will be headquartered, and no commissioner has yet been hired, Garrett said.

Mountain East spokesman Reid Amos, who is on the staff at West Liberty, said in a prepared release, “The goal of this effort has been to align like-minded institutions with similar budgets and goals across a regional footprint.”

“We strongly believe that our charter membership creates a solid foundation that provides mutual benefit and secures the athletic future for our institutions.”

Amos issued the statement on behalf of the presidents of the 12 institutions in “the new alliance.”

The NCAA requires, among other things, that a conference must offer championships in at least 16 sports. Amos said the MEC will offer men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, golf, tennis, cross country and track, as well as football, volleyball, softball and baseball.

UVa-Wise has competed with WVIAC schools in non-conference contests in recent years. Garrett was on the search committee that recommended that it be accepted into the new league after a two-day site visit in February.

“After the site visit,” he said, “interviewing coaches and administrators, seeing their facilities and the commitment they have put forward — once we saw that, it all fit into the Division II model we wanted to project.

“Any time you can be familiar with an institution, you know what the facilities are and you know the competitiveness they have ... that makes it easier.”

He was not personally involved in the deliberations with Urbana or Notre Dame College, but he said, “All three institutions are very well prepared to be on the D-II level. They’re all three very excited, and we are very excited.

“They all have competitive athletic programs that will fit into our model.”

Seton Hill, a Pennsylvania university that has been in the WVIAC since 2007, was among the nine institutions that announced on June 18 that they were leaving the West Virginia Conference as a group. It is not among the 12 Mountain East schools.

The commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, Steve Murray, told the Daily Telegraph of Bluefield on Monday that Seton Hill and another WVIAC school, the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, are “expected to accept invitations” today to join their league.

The departures would leave the WVIAC with just three members — Bluefield State College, Davis & Elkins College and Ohio Valley University.

Alderson-Broaddus College announced on Sunday that it will leave the WVIAC to join the new Great Midwest Athletic Conference next year.

The NCAA, to which the West Virginia Conference has belonged since 1994, will not sanction a conference with fewer than eight members.

Barry Blizzard, commissioner of the WVIAC for 27 of its 89 years, declined comment to The Associated Press on Monday. He said June 18 that the departure of the schools was “a devastating blow.”

The Mountain East has a Dec. 1 deadline to submit paperwork to the NCAA. Garrett said Monday, “We feel like we’re on track to meet our Dec. 1 deadline with the help of our consulting firm.”

Notre Dame College is an NCAA Division II independent with some sports that are affiliated with the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Urbana and UVa-Wise had been planning to join the Great Midwest Athletic Conference.

UVa has been accepted into the NCAA membership process and will compete in Division II in 2013 while pursuing full membership, the AP reported.

Wheeling Jesuit was not among the schools that announced their impending pullout in June, but has now been accepted into the Mountain East.

WJU athletics director Dan Sancomb told the Daily Telegraph the activity has been “constant” at the private school in the past two months to reach a decision on the Cardinals’ conference affiliation.

He said, “We really explored all options from all different levels. At the end of the day, we felt the Mountain East was the best fit from an academic standpoint, and athletics.”

Being the only institution in the new circuit without football is “a little different,” he said, but the choice came down to “the caliber of the other teams. Their record speaks for itself. They have had a lot of success, and we hope to continue that in the Mountain East.

“We feel like we made the best decision for our institution.”

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