The Times West Virginian

March 28, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN - MAC move could be temporary

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — West Virginia University’s orphaned men’s soccer team found a home in the Mid-America Conference, but it seems WVU officials are looking at it as more as a foster home than a permanent placement.

In fact, the four-year deal they agreed to carries an escape clause if the Big 12, the Mountaineers’ new conference home for all sports but men’s soccer and rifle, begins to offer the sport of men’s soccer.

And, if WVU athletic director Oliver Luck has his way, that is exactly what will happen, as during the press conference to announce the Mountaineers’ affiliation with the MAC, he pledged to see what he could do to get the Big 12 to consider men’s soccer as a sponsored sport.

“As we enter into the Big 12 we will work in a formal fashion to figure out if men’s soccer can become a sport and what are the hurdles to other Big 12 schools considering men’s soccer,” Luck said. “As the new guy on the block I’ll have to gauge the temperature of other schools and see if there is any momentum for men’s soccer. The sport clearly is becoming more and more popular across the country.”

Certainly coach Marlon LeBlanc, who has lifted the Mountaineer program to a national status in his six years, is hoping to eventually wind up as part of a Big 12 men’s soccer conference.

“My hopes are somewhere down the road the Big 12 does get to the point where men’s soccer is a sponsored sport,” he said. “Most of those universities already have a facility and infrastructure in place because there is women’s soccer.

“There is the potential and hopes that can happen down the line, whether it be through expansion, continued conference realignment or new programs jumping up at the member institutions,” LeBlanc continued. “I think it would catch on very quickly in the league.”

One reason LeBlanc believes there will be a push for men’s soccer is that the league could be prominent in the sport.

“The state of Texas would be a soccer powerhouse tomorrow,” he predicted. “Texas is an unbelievable talent hotbed. Texas and Texas Tech would be instant competitors. Baylor the same way. Oklahoma would be an instant competitor, them and Oklahoma State.”

Certainly Title IX, which was founded with good intentions and certainly created far more opportunities for women in athletics, is at the root of the fact that men’s soccer has diminished in stature and in its reach across America.

Women’s soccer has flourished as men’s soccer shrank, along with such other men’s sports as wrestling, tennis and track and field, WVU’s women’s team having reached national heights, even international as it currently is touring Spain.

But it is more than just Title IX. It comes from the philosophies within leagues.

“It’s not just the Big 12 (that doesn’t have men’s soccer),” LeBlanc noted. “The SEC doesn’t offer men’s soccer from a conference perspective. I spent a number of years in the Big 10, and it does not have all its schools represented, and the

Pac-12 doesn’t have all its schools represented. The ins and outs and the reasoning for those things I can’t say.”

Luck says he has not studied the situation but is aware of the lay of the land.

“The SEC has two schools — Kentucky and South Carolina — who compete in Conference USA. Why is that? It’s difficult to say,” he said. “One thing that characterizes the Big 12 and the SEC when you compare it to the Big 10 and the ACC schools is that the Big 12 and SEC have a limited number of sports, much like us.

“Texas, which generates more revenue than any other Division 1 program, I think has only 18 sports. The ACC schools and Big 10, along with the PAC-12 schools, have in the mid-20s and some in the 30s.”

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.