The Mountain East Conference finds itself at a crossroad just six years in

BUCKHANNON – Times, they are-a-changing for the Mountain East Conference (MEC).

Six weeks ago, the MEC received official notice from Shepherd University that they were withdrawing  from the league.

That was on the heels of UVa.-Wise deciding to leave the conference just 10 weeks prior.

Both institutions had their reasons for leaving, but it isn’t a good look for the 6-year old MEC with a pair of teams bolting.

UVa.-Wise was never a good geographical fit for the West Virginia-Ohio-based conference from the start.

They are making a move to the South Atlantic Conference with 11 other schools located in Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.

In a press release about their move, UVa.-Wise athletic director Kendall Rainey said, “The geographic footprint of the SAC fits our regional profile, allowing for reduced travel and missed class time for our students.”

During my time as sports information director at West Virginia Wesleyan, I had the opportunity to meet several outstanding people that worked at UVa.-Wise including SID Darrell Ely.

But let’s be honest, I am not sure many will miss UVa.-Wise.

They didn’t make much of an imprint on the conference during their short stay. During their time in the MEC, the Cavaliers won just one conference championship in 2016 in men’s golf.

In fairness to the Cavs, they did finish sixth this year in the MEC Commissioner’s Cup standings and  seventh last year so it’s not like their sports teams were at the bottom of the league.

I also doubt many will miss the long trips to Wise, Va.

The loss on the other hand of Shepherd is going to hurt, no matter how the story is spun.

Rumors of Shepherd leaving the MEC and even going to Division I have been swirling for years now.

Shepherd is off to join the ultra-competitive Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC).

The Rams, unlike UVa.-Wise were a standard bearer on the playing fields for the MEC, especially in the one sport that really counts – football.

We all know football steers the boat and no one has done it any better than Shepherd.

The Rams played for the Division II national football title in 2015 and reached the national semifinals in 2016. The baseball team also won MEC championships in 2016 and 2017 while finishing as runner-up in 2015 and 2018.

Losing Shepherd is also like losing a long-time family member. The Rams were part of the now defunct West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and have a long history with many of those former members including West Virginia Wesleyan College.

At the heart of the matter, Shepherd left for the same reasons as UVa.-Wise did. Travel and costs.

In a time when many Division II athletic budgets are under the gun, it isn’t a surprise that schools are looking for ways to cut costs.

While pure speculation at this point, the word on the street is that the two MEC members located in Ohio, Notre Dame College and Urbana, are also looking for a conference closer to home.

With losing two schools already, I don’t know if the MEC could suffer another hit of losing two more institutions.

The MEC did reverse the trend of schools leaving by adding a school to the conference last week.

Frostburg State will slowly enter the conference as they make the move from non-scholarship athletics at the Division III level to Division II. They will be the first school from Maryland to join the conference.

Full membership for the Bobcats will be contingent upon Frostburg State achieving active membership at the NCAA Division II level.

But making the move from Division III to II isn’t easy.

UVa.-Wise did the same thing and we already have seen their lack of success overall in the MEC.

Adding Frostburg State brings in another school, but it could be years down the road before their athletic teams are competitive in the MEC.

The conference now stands at 11 teams as long as the Ohio teams stay put.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the conference would like to get back to 12 teams.

But who?

Alderson Broaddus has been hanging out since being left on the outside looking in at the MEC during their formation in 2013. And the Battlers have football. On the surface they would seem like a perfect fit, but as we all know politics and finances all play a part in who gets in and who doesn’t.

The Battlers also finished dead last in the 2017-18 Great Midwest Conference (G-MAC) Presidents’ Cup standings.

Could the MEC pluck someone else from the G-MAC? Could the G-MAC steal someone from the MEC? It’s no secret the G-MAC has made some phone calls to MEC schools.

There were a lot of people unhappy when the WVIAC folded and the exposure that the state lost when the name changed, but it was probably time for some schools to be dropped and the WVIAC take its place in history after an amazing run.

Now after just six years, the MEC has already hit a crossroads in their short existence.

It will certainly be an interesting next few years for the conference. Do they die? Do they continue to expand? Will they look the same today as they do say in 2026?

The one thing we do know is that change is still coming for the MEC.

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