Tuesday, November 3, 2009

PAC: Big 2, Little 8

Washington & Jefferson and Thomas More played a memorable football game Saturday at Cameron Stadium, one that decided the Presidents' Athletic Conference championship.

That shouldn't come as a surprise. For years, W&J has been the giant in the Presidents' Athletic Conference, in the size of both its football linemen and its wallet. The Presidents have won 22 PAC football championships. And W&J's success has not been limited to football. Over the last decade, the Presidents have built a powerful athletic program with full-time head coaches and several sparkling new playing facilities as its blueprint for success.

Thomas More is a relative newcomer to the PAC, having joined in 2005. But the Saints have become a major player. Last year, Thomas More won PAC titles in the conference's three marquee sports: football, men's basketball and women's basketball.

There is little doubt that W&J and Thomas More are the powerhouse athletic programs in the PAC. While Grove City has had much success - primarily in the pool, on the tennis courts and in the running sports - and Westminster's women won the conference's all-sports trophy last year on the strength of titles in volleyball and track & field, there is a big gap between W&J, Thomas More and the rest of the PAC. With the exception of cross country, the Big Two can be found in the top three in all current men's sports standings. The same can be said for women's volleyball and women's soccer. In reminds of the old days of Big Ten football with Ohio State, Michigan and then everybody else battling for third place.

This should concern the PAC because it's possible - some might say likely - that W&J and Thomas More will leave the PAC in the near future. W&J has made overtures on at least two occasions, including this year, to the North Coast Athletic Conference about joining that league. When Thomas More, which is located in Crestview Hills, Ky., joined the PAC many expected it to be a short-term relationship before the Saints joined a conference based closer to its campus. Thomas More had played as an independent before joining the PAC.

If W&J and Thomas More leave the PAC, then it will be a huge blow to the conference. Think back to the state of Big East football when Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami bolted for the ACC. The PAC will be in worse shape than Big East football was in 2005.

Four of the current PAC schools have athletic programs that are light years behind W&J and Thomas More. Bethany did not win a PAC championship in any sport last year. The last Bison titles came in the 2007-08 school year in men's basketball and softball. Thiel wins the conference title each year in wrestling, but there are only three schools that field teams in that sport and the other two have trouble filling the weight classes. Chatham is an all-girls school and the development of its athletic program is in its infancy.

The athletic program at Waynesburg is the worst in the PAC. The Yellow Jackets haven't won a conference championship in any sport since a volleyball title in 2004. The men's teams at Waynesburg haven't hoisted a PAC title trophy since it football title in 2003. That's amazing when you consider the school's president is a former high school and college coach.

Geneva and St. Vincent are currently completing the process of becoming full-fledged members of the PAC. However, neither is showing the ability to become a power in the league.

There are some people at W&J who openly joke about the sorry state of the athletic programs at Bethany, Thiel and Waynesburg. W&J football coach Mike Sirianni even took a shot at Thiel's football program after the Presidents lost to Thomas More.

"We haven't been good on offense all season. Who have we really played? Thiel?" Sirianni said.

If W&J and Thomas More leave the PAC for other leagues, then will the rest of NCAA Division III be joking about what's left of the PAC?



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