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Six WVC schools move closer to leaving league

by Chris Errington

SPORTS WRITER

It's been a topic for months. Friday it moved one step closer to becoming reality.

Six West Virginia Conference private-school presidents met with presidents from several private Division-II schools from Pennsylvania and Ohio at the Pittsburgh Airport Marriott to discuss the possibility of forming a 13-team conference that would begin play in the 2001-02 season.

Though unnamed, the conference could include WVC schools: Alderson-Broaddus, West Virginia Wesleyan, Davis & Elkins, Wheeling Jesuit, Charleston and Ohio Valley, as well as Point Park of Pittsburgh, Tiffin (Ohio) and possibly Gannon (Pa.)

No decision to form the new conference or remain in the WVC was reached Friday, but school presidents did agree to make April 1 the deadline.

Private-school presidents were unavailable for comment Friday evening.

WVC commissioner Barry Blizzard was uninformed about the decision.

"I just know they had a meeting. I really wasn't informed officially of anything" he said. "I hope none of them go, but this is a presidential-level decision. Any action would be taken by them."

The possible mass exodus results from monetary differences.

Private-school presidents argue that through the lack of state funding the conference's state schools receive and the higher cost of their tuition, they must pay more for the same amount of athletic scholarships state schools offer. In turn, they believe the price to compete has become too steep.

A meeting of WVC presidents was held last spring, when three proposals to limit scholarships were rejected. Subsequently private-school presidents said they were forced to entertain the possibility of leaving the conference. While Friday's meeting left the private schools' decision uncertain, all it made Concord College men's basketball coach Steve Cox was less than sympathic.

"If they leave the league, it will hurt them more than it hurts us," Cox said. "Some egos have gotten involved here. Someone's convinced these presidents that they can recruit more people if they become elite status. No matter what they do, we're still West Virginia, and we won't have a higher profile than the Ivy League.

"It's my recommendation that if they leave the conference, we don't play them in anything."

By leaving, private schools believe they can compete on a more balanced playing field where each school is pressured by the same financial burdens. For the WVC, it would mean the loss of six of its key members.

The University of Charleston men's basketball team is currently ranked No. 11 and recently defeated No. 1 Salem-Teikyo, while West Virginia Wesleyan is one of only seven conference institutions that compete in football. Its loss would prove even more difficult for conference schools to earn postseason berths.

"Anyway you look at it, what does (losing institutions) make our conference look like to the NCAA?" Fairmont State College athletic director and women's basketball coach Jim Brinkman said. "If teams do leave, the conference, as we know it, will change forever."

Brinkman pointed to the WVC's unique position of encompassing only West Virginia schools as just one of the perks the exodus would terminate. If the six private schools do leave, the WVC would fall one short of the NCAA-required 10 members needed for conference champions to receive automatic postseason bids, including basketball. Brinkman and other conference officials speculated on whether Wheeling Jesuit had already decided to stay.

With this knowledge, Blizzard agreed that the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown -- the only school which has petitioned for instatement into the WVC -- would likely be accepted, and in the process end the conference's West Virginia-only tag.

"I can't speak for the board, but if we lost schools (UP-J) would definitely be more attractive," Blizzard said. "They would fit well."

Glenville State College women's basketball coach and former AD, Steve Harold, wasn't nearly as confident.

"I'm sure (teams leaving) would hurt the conference," he said. "I'd hate to see anyone leave, because there's going to be teams that leave that end great rivalries. Anytime you lose that many teams, it can't be good for a conference."

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