When it comes to Division II sports, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference holds its own in terms of stiff competition. All a person has to do is look at the 2007 Golden Rams football season to prove that point true. Aside from having to deal with a familiar Bloomsburg group this week, Bill Zwaan and company will have to face a California team that is making a huge impact out west, as well as the Golden Bears of Kutztown University, who have been keeping pace with them back here in the east.
Last winter, the West Chester men and women’s basketball teams ended their seasons with losses to in-conference opponents. Dick Delaney and his men felt the sting all through late February with critical losses to Mansfield, Bloomsburg and a Millersville Marauders team that was nationally ranked. The Lady Rams, on the other hand, held their own by winning 7 straight conference games late in the season to make the playoffs. However, they too eventually met their fate with a loss to Millersville in the first round.
All in all, with competition as rough as it is in the PSAC, it’s hard to imagine how things could get any more heated. However, this past June, league officials announced their intentions to throw another log on the fire.
Actually they’re going to throw three.
Beginning with the 2008-2009 sports season, the PSAC will be joined by three new participating athletic programs: the Golden Knights of Gannon University, the Lakers of Mercyhurst College and the Pioneers of Long Island University’s C.W. Post Campus. Gannon and Mercyhurst both are located near Erie, Pennsylvania, and will become full time additions to the league next year, while C.W. Post will only be participating in football and field hockey as an associate member.
The new teams will bring a world of difference to the realm of the PSAC with 14 current members is one of the largest conferences with all its participating schools in the same state. What was originally a league made up only of schools in the Pennsylvania state system, will now feature private universities with the addition of Mercyhurst and Gannon as well as a school from New York state.
Yet according to PSAC Commissioner Steve Murray, the differences the expansion will bring are shadowed by its many benefits.
“There’s always some negatives to things and I think there’s always trepidation in the change that can occur,” Murray said, “[We] didn’t go through without those kinds of issues as well, but I think in the long run this is going to be the best thing for the league.”
One of the benefits is that with two new full-time programs, the PSAC now has the opportunity to increase the number of team sports that play with a divisional format. The 2008-2009 athletic year will feature east and west divisions not only in the current sports of football, baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s tennis, softball women’s soccer and women’s volleyball, but also the additional sports of men’s soccer, women’s lacrosse and women’s field hockey. The benefit is that with more divisional sports (and of course more teams in each division), student athletes will face schedules with more in-division contests and less crossover matches.
“With more sports playing divisionally, you’ll see then more inter-divisional play occurring and less need to travel across the state to play.” Murray added
Of course in order for inter-divisional play to work in most sports, changes had to be made to the current PSAC East-West picture. The commissioner’s office told The Quad that it had been drafting proposals all summer regarding how to re-organize the league, and a final plan was due to be voted on by the board of directors by today.
Shippensburg University will be moving from the west to the east division in most sports. Reason being is it will help keep the divisions even and produce schedules for student athletes that will be “geographically friendly.”
Also, since C.W. Post is in Long Island, they will join the PSAC East in football and field hockey. On the football front, the addition of the Pioneers will make up for the loss of the Mansfield Mountaineers.
Another benefit of the league’s expansion is that it will save a few sports that were in jeopardy of being lost in the PSAC, particularly men’s golf and men’s tennis. In June, the league announced that it was in danger of dropping the two activities as “championship sports, as the number of institutions sponsoring those sports dropped below the critical number of six.”
Now with the addition of Gannon and Mercyhurst not only has the crisis involving the two sports been averted, but Murray claims that there is a possibility that PSAC golf will eventually feature two separate championships for men and women. This is of course is providing more current members add women’s golf as a sport. Currently both genders compete together.
“West Chester’s is one of the current women’s teams that we currently have in the league,” Murray said. “So I think it would be very positive for those female student athletes down there to have their own separate championship.”
Murray also explained how the league’s expansion would expose the PSAC to more metropolitan areas and thus enable it to access more “students, alumni and sponsorship dollars.”
“With Gannon and Mercyhurst, we have more contact with one of the largest cities in Pennsylvania and of course C.W. Post is basically in the New York City area,” Murray continued. “I think there’s some potential for growth for us in those areas as well.”
With C.W. Post joining the football scene in the PSAC East next season, head coach Bill Zwaan doesn’t seem worried. Despite the fact that the Pioneers foiled his team’s quest for a Division II national championship in 2005, he sees the expansion as an opportunity to “make the league stronger.”
“I think C.W. Post is good,” Zwaan said. “They are a good team.they’re good competition for us and I like playing C.W. Post. I think in the long run the way it works out with Shippensburg coming over to the east, I think for us personally it will be really good.”
Both Gannon and Mercyhurst will be contributing to 16 of the league’s 23 sponsored championship sports following one more year of participation with their current league-the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. C.W. Post is also an associate member in the Northeast 10 Conference.
Formed in 1951, the PSAC’s 14 current programs were all original charter members. The only other change to the membership came in the mid 1980s when West Chester flirted with a move to Division I.
Michael DeSumma is a fourth year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at MD591635@wcupa.edu