Men’s soccer looking for ‘best balance’ in future conference
Published: Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 00:02
With all the lawsuits settled and West Virginia's move to the Big 12 Conference complete, one varsity sport is still waiting to find out what conference it will be playing in next season.
Since the Big 12 doesn't have men's soccer, head coach Marlon LeBlanc and his team still don't know what league they will be getting to play in when the 2012 season comes around.
"We've not made any final decisions, but Marlon LeBlanc and I and our staff have been talking on a daily basis, and it's really an important program for us," said WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck. "We're going to maintain a high level of competition for that program because they've been very successful, and they've been a great representative of our athletic department."
During his conference call Tuesday morning, Luck said the University had a few options it could go in for the men's soccer team's future conference affiliation.
"One of those (options) is an affiliation as Kentucky and South Carolina have with Conference USA," Luck said. "We're also having some discussions with the Mid-American Conference in terms of men's soccer joining that conference."
When asked about the conversations the conference has had with WVU, a MAC official told The Daily Athenaeum Tuesday that it "will not publicly discuss membership issues and will reserve those discussions internally."
With the news of Conference USA's future merger with the Mountain West Conference, both Luck and LeBlanc agreed that a move to the MAC would make things a little easier on West Virginia in terms of travelling, but said they aren't leaning toward either league as of now.
"Either conference could be a great opportunity for us," LeBlanc said. "I've got a lot of respect for both conferences.
"Do I have a preference? No, not really. All I really want to do is make sure that we leave our program in the best possible scenario to keep moving forward and we think both conferences have the ability to offer us that."
A third option that could happen for the Mountaineers next season could be to go independent. Currently, Alabama A&M is the only independent team in the nation, but LeBlanc said that the independent route could also be an option for his team next year before making its way to a new league for the 2013 season.
"A lot of it just depends on finding the right balance for our RPI," LeBlanc said. "The sacrifice of independent status would, of course, be giving up and automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but I'd like for us to be in a situation where our body of work during the season is more indicative of whether we're deserving of a bid than having to earn the automatic bid by winning the league."
Throughout every step of the way in trying to find West Virginia's next conference, Luck has kept LeBlanc informed, and the athletic director said Tuesday night that a lot of the final decision will come from what the seventh-year head coach feels will be the best fit for the program.
"The one thing that Oliver has been steadfast with has been his commitment to me and to this program and to our players," LeBlanc said. "They're committed and they want to find what's best for the program. Oliver has said point blank, ‘Whatever you want to do, it's up to you and we'll support it.'
"Right now our biggest obstacle is just time."
The University's recent litigations with the Big East Conference has put the Mountaineers a little behind schedule though, LeBlanc admitted.
But, he said, regardless of how much time they might have, they're going to take their time, and figure out what is going to be best for the team and the program as a whole.
"If we wanted to make a move tomorrow, I think we could be in a conference tomorrow," LeBlanc said. "The issue lies mostly in whether or not we can not just join a conference, it's putting together a resume and a schedule that will best prepare us for having a shot at the NCAA tournament.
"But make no mistake about it: I'm not just about making the tournament. I'm about actually winning the tournament."