West Virginia men’s soccer team to join the Mid-American Conference next season
Published: Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 08:04
The West Virginia men’s soccer team has a new home.
Athletic Director Oliver Luck and head coach Marlon LeBlanc announced last Tuesday the Mountaineers will join the Mid-American Conference next season as an affiliate member.
"We think this is a very good move for us," Luck said. "There was a lot of uncertainty with a lot of other potential conference affiliations in terms of travel and other things. We feel this is a very strong move for our program."
WVU will be the conference’s eighth member and third men’s soccer affiliate joining Florida Atlantic and Hartwick College.
"I am pleased to welcome West Virginia University as an affiliate member in men’s soccer beginning with the 2012 season," said MAC Commissioner Dr. Jon A. Steinbrecher in a statement. "The Mountaineers have a wonderful history in men’s soccer and will add depth and strength to the Mid-American Conference."
The Mountaineers will join the MAC since the Big 12 Conference doesn’t currently offer men’s soccer, and no other members of the league support the sport.
But that’s something both Luck and LeBlanc think could change at some point down the road, and if it does, WVU will be allowed to begin play in the Big 12 immediately due to an amendment with the MAC that says if the Big 12 begins offering soccer at some point during West Virginia’s four-year commitment with the MAC, it can switch leagues without a penalty.
"My hopes are that, somewhere down the road, the Big 12 does get to a point where men’s soccer is a sponsored sport," LeBlanc said. "Most of those institutions already have the facilities and infrastructures already in place because most of them already have women’s soccer. So there is the potential that could happen down the line."
Next season West Virginia will play seven MAC games, two fewer games than it played in the Big East Conference.
Due to the decrease in league games, the Mountaineers are now looking to add a couple more teams to their nonconference schedule. LeBlanc said those teams might come from the Big East.
"We tried to do a little bit of creative scheduling this year to keep some of those rivalries going," LeBlanc said. "We’re hopeful that we’ll have at least one, maybe two (on this year’s schedule). The question is whether or not we’re able to adjust some other games in order to make those games still work."
The decision to join the MAC was ultimately chosen over spending some time as an independent or joining Conference USA. It was a tough choice that started looking a little easier in February when uncertainty began surrounding what the future of Conference USA would look like.
"Once Conference USA lost Memphis and they started talking about how they were going to survive in terms of conference realignment is when things became a little bit clearer," LeBlanc said. "I didn’t want to be doing this stuff again a year from now. I couldn’t put us in a situation where there’s a chance that we would have to be doing this all over again."
The MAC had two teams earn berths in the NCAA tournament last year, and both Akron and Northern Illinois were ranked in the top 25. Akron won the 2010 national championship.
Even with the talented teams in their new conference, LeBlanc feels next season’s Mountaineer team, which will be led by a lot of experienced seniors, has a chance to compete for a title.
"We were a contender every year in the Big East, and we expect to be a contender every year in the MAC," LeBlanc said. "Is it going to be easy? No. There are a lot of good teams there, and you’ve still got to win the games. But we certainly have guys that we’ve got a good opportunity to win more than just a conference championship.
"Success, for me, isn’t defined by winning conferences. We could win a bad conference and be the champions every year and people might celebrate that, but that’s not what we’re about. We want to win the national championship."