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West Virginia men’s soccer switches course; takes leap to Sun Belt Conference

Photo courtesy WVU Athletics / wvusports.com

Less than a year ago, West Virginia men’s soccer program announced that it would be moving to Conference USA from the Mid-American Conference, where it competed as an affiliate member in recent years due to the lack of men’s soccer programs in the Big 12 Conference, where most of the school’s other athletic programs belonged.

In a somewhat suprising turn of events, on Wednesday, WVU officials and the Sun Belt Conference announced that West Virginia, along with two Southeast Conference (SEC) schools that sponsor men’s soccer programs, Kentucky and South Carolina, would now be affiliate members in the Sun Belt Conference.

The Sun Belt Conference will bring back men’s soccer beginning in fall 2022, the league announced on Wednesday, and West Virginia school officials felt it would be the best course of action to change course from Conference USA to the Sun Belt.

“Previously, we had planned to have our men’s soccer team compete in Conference USA, but realignment has changed those plans. Moving our men’s soccer program to the Sun Belt Conference gives us the best chance to compete nationally in a strong soccer conference.” 

“I want to thank Conference USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod for inviting us to be a part of the league’s men’s soccer lineup, but circumstances change constantly, and competing in the Sun Belt Conference is now the best option going forward for our soccer program at this time,” Director of Athletics, Associate Vice President Shane Lyons, said through a University statement on Wednesday.

This is a significant move for WVU along with Marshall, who would have been together in Conference USA, to be part of a conference with numerous programs that have regularly been in the hunt for NCAA tournament berths and have been Nationally Ranked.

WVU is coming off a very impressive campaign as second year coach Dan Stratford guided his alma mater to a high national ranking and as far as the Elite Eight in the 2021 NCAA Men’s Soccer tournament, where they lost to top-seed Georgetown.

Nine teams will comprise Sun Belt Conference men’s soccer; three of the new Sun Belt members (as of July 1) James Madison, Marshall, and Old Dominion will join Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, and Georgia State. In addition, Kentucky, South Carolina, and West Virginia will compete as affiliate members for men’s soccer only. The Sun Belt Conference previously sponsored men’s soccer from 1976-1995 and 2014-20.

“These elite programs will lend instant credibility and help establish the Sun Belt as one of the nation’s premier men’s collegiate soccer conferences,” said Commissioner Keith Gill. “They each bring their unique traditions and histories of excellence. We welcome them and look forward to a bright future on the pitch.”

Marshall claimed the 2020 NCAA Championship, becoming the first unseeded team to accomplish the feat in nearly 15 years.

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South Carolina is one of just 24 programs all-time to make 20 or more NCAA Tournament appearances, finishing as national runners-up in 1993. West Virginia has appeared in 15 NCAA Tournaments and advanced to the national quarterfinal last fall.

“We’re very excited to be a part of a new era of Sun Belt Conference men’s soccer. With the changing landscape of college athletics, this move took some time, but we couldn’t be more thrilled with our outcome,” WVU’s Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director/Business Operations, CFO/Men’s Soccer Sport Administrator Simon Dover stated.

“This is a great move for our program, and we are proud to be among what we believe will become a premier conference in men’s soccer.”

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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