By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Don’t think football controls college athletics at every level?
Just look at the blight of Bluefield State College, which still doesn’t have a place to call home 11 months after the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference began to implode.
The primary reason: Bluefield State hasn’t offered football since 1981, and there are no plans to do so in the near future.
“Day one it was football driven and took us out of the loop,” Bluefield State Athletic Director Terry Brown said. “We were not a consideration, but as time goes on, things change so once they change now we are back in the hunt.”
Eight members of the WVIAC formed what would become the newly-created 12-team Mountain East Conference. One of those schools was fellow WVIAC program, Wheeling-Jesuit, which was added a month or so later as the only non-football playing school in the league.
It was that move that continues to give Brown hope that the fledging Division II circuit will also accept Bluefield State as a member.
“We felt like it was in our best interest to go along with our former members of the WVIAC, we felt like it was in our best interest to become a member of the Mountain East Conference,” said Brown, who said the newly-created Great Midwest Athletic Conference (GMAC) is the school’s next option. “Now we do not offer football, but the Mountain East is exploring that possibility for us at this point.
“We have not been formerly accepted into the Mountain East, we are hoping to be accepted into that conference.”
It was a year ago last June when Brown received a phone call that the WVIAC was being dissolved. Nine schools eventually went to the Mountain East, and four others have joined the GMAC.
That has left Bluefield State looking for a place to call home.
“I assure you Bluefield State has worked very hard in exploring what options are out there, what options are available to us and what options are best for Bluefield State College student-athletes, and that is our priority,” Brown said.
Right now the Blues are in waiting mode, with Brown anxiously awaiting a decision from the Mountain East. Brown said Bluefield State schedules are ready for next year, and no matter what happens, they will be continue to play such former WVIAC foes as Concord, Glenville State and Charleston.
Among the concerns Brown has considered in the process was limiting the loss of class time, travel and overall expenses, gaining the proper recognition for its athletes, in addition to maintaining rivalries.
“We felt like at this point what conference would be our best fit and that is the Mountain East and those were the reasons why, the travel, the rivals, the cost...,” Brown said. “Those were things we looked at.
“Trust me it has been a long, hard search to put together all the facts and figures and we are not there yet, but we would like to be there soon. We are waiting on a decision hopefully here soon.”
If Bluefield State’s request is denied, Brown said the Big Blues next option would be the GMAC, which already has a quartet of former WVIAC schools, but the ‘downside’ is the excessive travel to member schools in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
“The GMAC is our second option,” Brown said. “It is not real attractive for the travel, but does have Division II compliance.”
Brown has explored other options with the assistance of NCAA Compliance Coordinator Marlon Furlongue, BSC President Martha Krotseng and student-worker Stephanie Muncy among others, all with similar hopes in mind.
Krotseng, who has been at Bluefield State for less than a year, recently distributed a letter to the school’s coaches assuring them that efforts were continuing to attain a conference affiliation in NCAA Division II athletics.
“Our goal and it will still be our goal when it is all said and done is try to do what is best for our student-athletes,” Brown said. “In that thinking we have to look at loss of class time and exposure, we have some of the top student-athletes in tennis and golf in the country and our other sports as well. We want them to get the recognition they deserve...
“Our job is to figure out what is in the best interest of our institution and weighing all the pros and cons.”
That has included looking into the CIAA, South Atlantic Conference and the Carolinas Conference in Division II, the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in Division III and even some NAIA possibilities, all while trying to find the right fit for the Blues.
Brown is hoping the improvement in some Bluefield State programs will help with the process, including nationally-ranked tennis and golf teams, and the improvement shown by the women’s basketball team.
Some members of the coaching staff at Bluefield State have expressed displeasure with the process, and Brown — a former coach himself — said he understands how they feel.
“I agree the coaches are frustrated with not having an identity, and there is no one more frustrated than our president and she has worked very hard,” Brown said. “Dr. Krotseng has been on the phone and working back and forth for quite some time, she came on board and wasn’t expecting this so she has had to work very hard.
“I think we all have done what is the best interest of our college, our school and our student-athletes. If I had something to do over again I don’t know what I would do different, and trust me I have gone back and evaluated what we have done from day one.”
Brown remains confident that the Mountain East will accept the Big Blues, especially after Wheeling Jesuit, a non-football playing school, joined the league a little over a month after the departures from the WVIAC began.
“Originally when this first happened, from day one when we got the word that the conference was going to be separated and moving on, the main reason was because we did not offer football,” Brown said. “Every school that elected at that time to join the Mountain East had football and they were bringing in other schools, such as UVa-Wise that had football.
“In the meanwhile, a month or a half later, they brought in Wheeling Jesuit. Wheeling, as of now, does not offer football and so that has sort of given us a crack in that door so to speak to be considered.”
Now, as the last coach to lead Bluefield State to a WVIAC basketball championship way back in 1996, Brown is anxiously awaiting a decision from the Mountain East.
So is everyone else associated with the Blues’ athletic program.
“We have done, for the most part, all the appropriate things that we need to be doing and we hope that some decision can be coming rather soon,” Brown said. “They have got the ball in their court.”
—Contact Brian Woodson