There are many indications nine football playing members of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC) will withdraw from the league to form a new regional all-sports conference.
The new league, yet to be named, will consist of 12 schools from West Virginia and surrounding states.
West Liberty University Vice President of Broadcasting, Reid Amos, a spokesperson for the new conference, says the move is fueled by the desire to create a conference of like-minded football playing schools.
“The consensus among the leadership of the WVIAC institutions currently playing football is that it is in the best interest of their institutions to align as part of a new 12 member all-sports conference that will create increased exposure for its members across a regional footprint,” Amos said.
On Monday’s MetroNews Talkline, Amos said the schools set to leave the WVIAC are the University of Charleston, Concord University, Fairmont State University, Glenville State College, Seton Hill University (located in Greensburg, Pa.), Shepherd University, West Liberty University, West Virginia State University, and West Virginia Wesleyan.
The move will leave the current 15 member WVIAC with six members; Alderson-Broaddus College, Bluefield State College, Davis & Elkins College, Ohio Valley University, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, and Wheeling Jesuit University.
WVIAC Commissioner Barry Blizzard said it would be a blow to one of the oldest conferences in the United States. "If the WVIAC is to survive, some schools must be added immediately. I don’t know where they would come from," Blizzard said.
"The future of this league is very much in jeopardy right now."
((Commissioner Blizzard on Talkline))
((Reid Amos on Talkline))
On Monday afternoon, though, University of Charleston President Dr. Ed Welch told MetroNews his school had not 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."
Amos says the new league, which does not have a name yet, is in discussion with other schools to reach 12 members.
He says the presidents and many of the athletic directors of the schools forming the new conference met last week and decided unanimously to break away from the WVIAC.
However, 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.
"We’ll continue to look at it. It’s on a fast time schedule and, when we need to make a decision, we will certainly do it."
The plan calls for the new league to begin competition in the fall of 2013. The upcoming 2012-2013 academic year would not be affected.
The break-away schools are notifying the remaining schools in the WVIAC by mail of their intentions.
Amos says the intent is to strengthen the position of the member schools of the new league.
“Our institutions believe that a 12-team all sports conference creates a solid foundation for its membership,” Amos said. “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 WVIAC is one of the nation’s oldest collegiate athletic conferences. It was formed in 1924 and included West Virginia University and Marshall University as charter members.
The conference, which is headquartered in Princeton, underwent a significant membership change in 2006 when charter member West Virginia Tech moved to the NAIA. The league then invited the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and Seton Hill University. Those two schools were the first members from outside of West Virginia since 1932 when Morehead State left the conference.
A major move took place in 1994 when the WVIAC ended a long affiliation with the NAIA to become an NCAA Division 2 member.
The withdrawal will bring to an end the annual WVIAC Basketball Championship, which is the nation’s oldest continuous post-season tournament. The event began in 1936, which predates the NCAA Tournament (1939) and the NIT (1938).