WVU initially wanted a partnership with Conference-USA, because it has a history of adding affiliated programs from other conferences – specifically the Southeastern Conference. Well, that plan went out the window when C-USA started to fumble around with its future and lost some current members.
Going independent was an option for a while – and it was actually the top option for a period of time. In fact, LeBlanc said in his Tuesday morning press conference alongside Athletic Director Oliver Luck that an independent schedule was already created prior to the start of the new year if that was the route WVU would take.
In the end, the pair decided that the effort it would take to create a schedule that met the competitive requirements LeBlanc wanted would just take too much time. Sure, the MAC isn't juicy. It's not going to get WVU better crowds or headlines unless the Mountaineers are taking on national power and now-conference foe Akron.
However, it was the best option – and one that could actually benefit West Virginia. It was going to be hard to compete with the Big East's elite programs like Notre Dame and Connecticut. Sure, LeBlanc had a knack for knocking off the Huskies, but his program was not at the level of those two. The crowds weren't as big; the history wasn't as rich.
That's not a problem anymore.
Akron is the standard – and it's a good one. The Zips won a national title in 2010 and dominate the MAC on a regular basis. But, to think WVU could never be at that level is laughable. The Mountaineers have a huge advantage in that it gets into the MACtion in men's soccer but can boast Big 12 athletics otherwise.
"We were a contender every year in the Big East and we expect to be a contender every year in the MAC," LeBlanc said. "Is it going to be easy? No, there are a lot of good teams there and you've still got to win the games. But we certainly have guys that we've got a good opportunity to win more than just a conference championship.
"Success for me isn't defined by winning conferences. We could win a bad conference and be the champions every year and people might celebrate that, but that's not what we're about. We want to win the national championship."
Here's the hope from all involved at WVU: The Big 12 would add men's soccer as a sport, and WVU could join in that sport, as well.
That likely wouldn't happen unless the Big 12 continued to expand – likely with Louisville. The Cardinals have one of the better men's soccer programs in the country, and that might just be enough for whomever the new Big 12 commissioner would be to make the move.
That's down the road – and I don't really want to get into conference expansion again, because it makes my stomach churn a bit – but it's an option WVU is obviously interested in.
"My hopes are that, somewhere down the road, the Big 12 does get to a point where men's soccer is a sponsored sport," LeBlanc said. "Most of those institutions already have the facilities and infrastructures already in place because most of them already have women's soccer. So there is the potential that that could happen down the line."
For now, the MAC is the best option for WVU's men's soccer program, and it will allow LeBlanc to continue to boost his program.
There is a following that seems to grow each year with both the men's and women's soccer programs. WVU fans seem to attach themselves better to these sports than some of the other Olympic sports on campus.
A move like this could allow for multiple conference titles for the men's side. And, that only boosts this program and allow LeBlanc to take it to the next level.
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