Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 2, 2013

An 89-year-old institution closes its doors

A look back at the WVIAC

PRINCETON — The West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC) went out of existence Sunday, after 89 years of coordinating small-college athletics in the Mountain State.

The league’s commissioner since November 1987, Barry Blizzard, said on Monday evening, “I’d like to think that I walked out the door last Friday knowing that I provided a whole lot of student-athletes with the best possible championship experience they could have had at this level.

“We ran the conference with integrity being the utmost objective, treating everyone fairly and looking after the student-athlete.”

Most of the schools in the WVIAC left to form a new circuit, the Mountain East, which begins play with the upcoming fall semester. Other schools found new conferences with which to affiliate, except for Bluefield State College.

The clock ran out for the WVIAC at midnight Sunday. At that time, it was the fourth-oldest conference in America.

“It was a long run. I am so, so thankful for the opportunity that I had,” Blizzard said. “I am so grateful to work for more than 25 years for something I love.”

“I was blessed with great staff — Will Prewitt, Ben Brownlee, Brent Hager, Megan Ciborowski, Stephanie Prewitt. Great young people. I’m proud of them. I hope they land on their feet.”

“It’s very sad the conference is going away, but change happens. We can either be bitter or we can move on and look for new challenges and ways to make ourselves valuable to somebody.”

“I have absolutely no regrets. Change came, and I wasn’t a part of it, and I moved on.”

Blizzard began work on Monday as administrative coordinator of the NCAA Division II Conference Commissioners Association, or D2CCA.

On Monday evening, he reflected on one of the jewels in WVIAC history, the league’s basketball tournament held every year since 1960 in the Charleston Civic Center.

“To the schools, it was always an event, especially in the early years,” Blizzard said. “There were reunions organized around it; it was a social event as well as an athletic event. I always told people that for one week of year we were in the headlines in every sports page in the state.”

“I think it meant a whole lot to a whole lot of people. It’s always been one of the major events on the calendar of the Civic Center. (It was) the first event in the new arena.”

He said the tournament was also great for the host organization, the Charleston Lions Club.

“They have realized well over $600,000 in the 53 years that the tournament was sponsored and all of that went into their sight conservation charity,” Blizzard said.

Blizzard, who was athletics director at Bluefield State for 11 years prior to being named conference commissioner, said the media has changed the public’s consumption of sports.

“On television (in the early 1970s), you had one game a week. If you wanted to see college basketball, you would go out to a local gym.

“The growth of cable television (in airing Division I games has) really diminished the interest of local people for local teams. ... It’s been a detriment to small-college basketball.”

“If the weather was a little bit bad, they’d stay home and watch North Carolina vs. Duke instead of going out on the road and watching Fairmont and Shepherd.”

“The biggest change I’ve seen is the glut of Division I on cable television.”

Monday was Blizzard’s first day in a long time in which he was not wrestling with the details of running the West Virginia Conference.

“It feels very different,” he said. “I am just very thankful that the Lord has provided me a way to still be involved with intercollegiate athletics at the Division II level. I think Division II is college athletics the way it ought to be.”

“It’ll be a change, but I’m looking forward it.”

He said he will be working from his home in Princeton, but the job will also require quite a bit of travel.

“I’m basically representing the commissioners’ association with the NCAA staff,” he said. He will also set up the group’s three meetings per year, and coordinate a basketball tip-off classic sponsored by the D2CCA and associated with the Walt Disney Company.

“I’ll be out in Anaheim in November assisting with tip-off classic out there,” he said. One of his goals is to re-establish the hoops event in the East and the Midwest.

“There’s quite a bit to do,” he said.

The D2CCA mission is “to encourage and promote Division II athletics and high standards of sportsmanship as important elements of higher education,” according to a news release.

One of the few remaining reminders of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference on Monday was its website, which carried a simple thank-you “for an amazing and prestigious history.”

The archives of the conference will be maintained at Bluefield State College, which stayed with the WVIAC to the end.

— Contact Tom Bone at

tbone@bdtonline.com

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