Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 7, 2014

Back home: Move by BC athletics is good news


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Bluefield College made a big decision in recent weeks to return to the Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) as home for their athletic program effective this fall, with the exception of the Rams’ football team.

That is good news for both student-athletes at BC and their fans.

The experiment of competing in the Mid-South Conference is ending this summer, about two years after the college announced that it was “moving up” to Division I of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, or NAIA.

That decision was paired up with the go-ahead to revive intercollegiate football at BC after an absence from the gridiron of 71 years.

The football program will remain in the Mid-South for now, according to college officials, since the Appalachian Athletic Conference does not compete in football — though that may change in the next few years.

Bluefield College President David Olive said in a press release this week about the league change, “While our experiences in the Mid-South have been positive, the AAC is a great fit for our teams and feels like being home.”

Beginning this fall, the Rams will once again be competing in conference games with old rivals such as Virginia Intermont in Bristol, Va., and Milligan, Union and Tennessee Wesleyan colleges.

The chairman of the AAC Council of Presidents, Dr. Bill Greer of Milligan, said in a press release, “We look forward to seeing their student-athletes back in regular conference competition.”

Bluefield College helped establish the Appalachian Athletic Conference, back when it was known as the Tennessee-Virginia Athletic Conference, in the early 1990s. It remained the Rams’ conference home for nearly two decades.

Conference commissioner John Sullivan was quoted, “Bluefield had been a member for many years, and we’re glad to have them back in our conference. They bring a full array of competitive sports and are well known to our members. We look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with them.”

The AAC counts among its 13 members several colleges that are closer to Bluefield College in their philosophies, enrollments and athletic budgets. It competes in the “smaller” division of the NAIA, Division II.

But bigger is not necessarily better.

Several of the Bluefield College teams have had difficulty matching up with their opponents in the Mid-South, despite the eternal optimism of BC coaches — like most coaches — that they could upgrade through good recruiting classes and hard work.

The conference standings for BC sports show an 8-10 mark for men’s basketball, 7-11 for women’s basketball, 3-6 in men’s soccer and 2-6-1 in women’s soccer last fall, and 2-26 in softball and 0-18 in volleyball last season.

As of Thursday, the baseball team was off to a glowing 3-0 conference start, but last spring the Rams were 5-19 in league play.

By contrast, while in the AAC, Bluefield College won six consecutive conference championships in men’s golf (1997-2002), claimed six conference championships in 11 years in men’s basketball (1999-2009), notched a perfect 18-0 conference record in men’s basketball (2009), won a conference championship in baseball (1997), earned two conference runner-up titles in women’s volleyball (1997-1998), and received a host of individual All-Conference and Player of the Year awards.

Bluefield College athletics director Peter Dryer said about the AAC, “The stability of this conference is very appealing. It’s growing, the competition is great in all sports, and the opportunity to continue fulfilling our mission through athletics in the AAC is very encouraging.”

No one should be throwing penalty flags at Lansdell Hall because of the decision of the Bluefield College administration to return to a conference that “feels like being home.” It’s time to move forward and to enjoy competition with peer-level institutions.

Using a phrase that has migrated from sports to general use, it’s a “win-win situation.”