WHEELING - The death knell finally fell on the West Virginia Conference on Monday as the nine football-playing schools announced they are breaking away to form a yet-to-be-named, 12-member conference in 2013. It was a shock to most, but was actually in the making for some time.
The divide between those institutions that offer football and those who don't, has grown considerably during the last decade. The possibility of the league's demise has been on and off for several years, and there was even discussion not all that long ago about the WVC breaking into a public vs. private entity.
Reid Amos, vice president of broadcasting at West Liberty and the spokesman for the new conference, said in a release the move was ''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 the new 12-member, all-sports conference that will create increased exposure for its members across a regional footprint.''
Essentially what that means, is it does West Liberty, which along with Charleston, Concord, Fairmont State, Glenville State, Seton Hill, Shepherd, West Virginia State and West Virginia Wesleyan is leaving, no good to play 13 in-state schools in terms of marketing its brand.
The discord between the football-playing and non football-playing schools seems to center around the fact it costs those who offer the sport a lot more to operate, yet all schools basically have the same budget.
In a joint release by the exiting presidents, it was noted that ''the intent of a new conference is to align like-minded institutions in terms of budget and goals. We strongly believe that a 12-member all-sports conference creates a solid foundation for its membership. 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.''
Just who will be the final three members of the new conference is yet to be determined. The league is said to want to broaden its horizons and in a perfect world, would get one school each in places such as Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina, and already has Seton Hill in Pennsylvania.
West Virginia Conference fans should recall that UVa-Wise, after the WVC had voted unanimously to offer an invitation for an Expression of Interest Letter, had its application to the conference denied during a secret vote, reportedly because a number of the non football-playing schools were concerned with travel costs. That's pretty much where the great divide started.
While the move makes perfect sense for West Liberty, it leaves Wheeling Jesuit out in the cold. The Cardinals, along with Alderson-Broaddus, which will field a football team in 2013, Bluefield State, Davis & Elkins, Ohio Valley and Pitt-Johnstown, are going to be left to pick up the pieces.
Always an optimist, WJU Athletics Director Dan Sancomb says his university will look forward, not back. This despite the fact he was less than pleased with the way the whole thing transpired.
''We'll have to talk to our administration,'' Sancomb said. ''I'm not really bummed. It gives us a chance to explore opportunities in another league.
''I think there's a right way and a wrong way. If you want to change, that's fine. But speak up to the members of the league. Behind closed doors isn't the way to do it.''
Locally, Sancomb believes this will ultimately do in the Cardinals' rivalry with West Liberty.
''I can't see it continuing if we're not in the same conference,'' he said.
Statewide, it's the end of an historic run. The WVC was formed in 1924 and it once included both West Virginia and Marshall. At least eight institutions are required to be considered a conference in the eyes of the NCAA, and that number is said to be headed to 10 in the near future.
It also marks the end of one of the longest standing basketball tournaments in the country. The WVC Tournament has run continuously since 1936.
That's collegiate athletics as we know them today. You can't worry about the next guy. You must have a one-track mind and only focus on yourself, for otherwise your very existence may be in peril.
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net