Rams, other schools join new conference

By this time next year, most of the vestiges of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference will be covered over by what happened in the fall and winter seasons of the Mountain East Conference where Shepherd will be a member.

By mid-June of this summer, the WVIAC, which played its first season in 1924, will be no more.

The league will be gone to some file cabinet where its records will be stored and then forgotten as the years roll by.

The Mountain East Conference and its logo will be where the championships come from . . . and where today’s history will be made.

Along with Shepherd, the other former WVIAC schools going to the Mountain East are West Liberty, Wheeling Jesuit, Fairmont, Concord, Glenville, West Virginia Wesleyan, Charleston and West Virginia State.

Only Wheeling Jesuit is without a football team.

Three other schools will join the nine West Virginia members, forming a 12-member conference that will begin in earnest with its football schedule. All of the schools are members of NCAA Division II.

None of the schools coming together with those leaving the WVIAC has more than about 3,200 students. And none of them has a distinguished athletic background with powerful teams.

Notre Dame College has a small student body that is just shy of 2,000. The Ohio-based school is located in South Euclid, a city of just over 22,000 near Cleveland. The Falcons went 3-8 in the 2012 football season, losing their season finale, 65-0, to Ashland. The men’s basketball team completed an 11-15 season that included an 85-63 loss to West Virginia Wesleyan. The Falcons’ womens basketball team was 13-13 and suffered a 71-61 loss to Seton Hill, then a member of the WVIAC. Urbana’s Blue Knights are located in Urbana, Ohio, a city with about 11,800 residents.

The football team was 7-4 overall, but lost a 33-21 decision to West Virginia Wesleyan, a team that went 3-8 and fired its coach.

Urbana’s mens basketball team was 10-19 and had a 104-85 loss to Glenville. The women’s basketball team was 13-15 and was beaten, 75-67, by Wheeling Jesuit.

Only 1,332 students attend Urbana.

The University of Virginia’s College at Wise has the nickname of “Cavaliers”. The town of Wise in far southwestern Virginia has about 3,200 residents.

Wise’s football team was 3-8 in 2012. The men’s basketball team was 11-15 and was beaten, 93-85, by West Virginia Tech. The women’s basketball team had a record of 8-21 and took a 57-51 loss from Fairmont. The student enrollment at Virginia-Wise is about 2,000.

Three small schools a long way from Shepherdstown are joining the nine West Virginia-based colleges to form a conference whose first-year claim on anybody’s interest is through a regional television network for its football games.

None of the league’s champions in any sport is guaranteed a berth in the NCAA playoffs. The Mountain East Conference is recognized by the NCAA and is a member in good standing with that organization. Many of its champions will be invited to NCAA Division II postseason events, but none is guaranteed any place in any sport’s playoffs.

The scheduling for football should be easier. Eleven of the schools play football. But the WVIAC had 15 basketball-playing members and the new league has only 12.

Finding competent officials could be a very real problem. It’s more than six hours from Cleveland to Shepherdstown and at least that long from Wise to Jefferson County. The new league won’t be assigning officials from Ohio or southwestern Virginia on a January night to work a Shepherd basketball game.

It’s probable many of the same officials that were employed by the WVIAC will be hired by the Mountain East Conference. And whether they be baseball umpires, mens or womens basketball officials, or football officials, the WVIAC types were not appreciated by Shepherd’s non-conference opponents.

The Mountain East Conference will have to test its sea legs. Even the WVIAC once had schools like Marshall, Bethany, West Virginia Tech, Beckley Junior College, WVU, Salem, Potomac State, Mountain State (Beckley) and Morehead State (Kentucky) as members.

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