The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 25, 2012

Top 10 sports stories of 2012 | No. 6: UPJ sports bid farewell to WVIAC

— The Pitt-Johnstown athletic department didn’t need GPS or mapquest to find a new home this year.

The Mountain Cats’ upcoming switch to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference made geographical sense and should create new rivalries and interest in the UPJ program.

Pitt-Johnstown announced it will become a member in the PSAC during the 2013-14 school year. The Cats and Seton Hill University of Greensburg each moved from the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference after nine football-playing members of the WVIAC unexpectedly set plans to form a new conference.

UPJ doesn’t field a football team, so the Mountain Cats had to explore other options.

Enter the PSAC, which includes well-known state universities such as IUP, California (Pa.), Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and Clarion, among others.

“It’s the footprint of our college,” UPJ Athletic Director Pat Pecora said after the August announcement.  “Geographically you’re talking about being with IUP, Slippery Rock and Clarion, schools that are so close. Even brand and name recognition is going to be great for our fans. They grew up with these schools. Ninety percent of our student-athletes are from Pennsylvania. You definitely have more of a fan awareness from student-athletes, students at the college and the community.”

The PSAC felt UPJ and Seton Hill were solid fits for the conference.

“Our board of directors was unanimous in its support for adding both schools,” PSAC Commissioner Steve Murray said. “This addition will strengthen us as a conference and within the region. It will open up more scheduling and competition opportunities while staying within the NCAA Division II regional-based competition model.”

Once UPJ and Seton Hill officially begin play in the PSAC next academic year, the conference will expand to 18 teams. Both would fit nicely in the West Division with regional rivals such as IUP, Cal, The Rock and Clarion.

UPJ previously had been part of the Mason-Dixon Athletic Conference and Mid-East Conference in the 1980s and early 1990s, but each of those conferences eventually dissolved, leaving UPJ’s program an independent.

Independent programs often face scheduling difficulties and have a harder time earning playoff berths because conferences have automatic postseason bids, leaving fewer at-large berths.

The WVIAC helped UPJ in those areas for six-plus years.

But times change, and the Cats have a new home to look forward to in 2013.

“It’s a milestone for the program,” said former UPJ Athletic Director Ed Sherlock, who was instrumental in helping the program get into the NCAA decades ago. “It’s like watching your kid grow up. It’s like going to graduation. You’ve come through all the phases and now we’ve been validated by being admitted into the conference.”