MORGANTOWN - It's an interesting dichotomy this West Virginia-to-the-Big 12 deal as it applies to men's soccer.
While all around him celebrated the move, Mountaineers coach Marlon LeBlanc kind of scratched his smoothly shaved head as he stood over to the side in a dimly lit corner and thought, "Uh, excuse me. Hello. Over here?''
The Big 12, you see, does not sponsor men's soccer. Not only that, there's not even a single rogue Big 12 school that dares to venture into the sport on its own.
Texas, with its seemingly multi-billion-dollar budget? Nope.
Oklahoma, where the land is so flat there could be a soccer pitch on any piece of unclaimed ground? Nah.
In Kansas or Iowa, where the pull of schoolboy football is not nearly what it is to the south and soccer might seem ripe to gain a foothold? Forget it.
No, despite what is probably a largely untapped gold mine of talent in the region - "Texas could start a men's soccer program today and be an instant powerhouse,'' said WVU athletic director Oliver Luck, who knows a little bit about both Texas and soccer - West Virginia will head next fall into a Big 12 Conference devoid of either sanctioned or non-sanctioned men's soccer.
Thus Tuesday's official announcement of what has appeared imminent for a while now. In addition to being the newest member of the Big 12, West Virginia is also the newest member of the Mid-American Conference. LeBlanc's successful WVU men's soccer program has been accepted as an affiliate member of the MAC in that sport.
All of which raises a couple of interesting questions. First, is MAC soccer any good or is this just the lesser of all the evils?
Well, actually MAC soccer is probably just as good as Big East soccer, according to LeBlanc. We have to trust his judgment because, quite frankly, ours is non-existent where soccer is concerned.
There are just fewer teams in the MAC. There were 16 playing in the Big East last season. Only five full MAC members play soccer, and WVU and two other affiliate members - Florida Atlantic and Hartwick College - make in an eight-team league now. At the top of the league, Akron is as good as anyone in the country, having won the 2010 national championship and with this year's No. 1 recruiting class in the country. At the bottom of the league? Well, not so much.
"But we had bad teams in the Big East, too,'' said LeBlanc, whose Mountaineers were generally much closer to the top than the bottom in the Big East and figure to raise the caliber of play in the MAC.
The more intriguing question, though, relates to the Big 12 and its dearth of men's soccer programs. How can a league like the Big East have everyone on board and the Big 12 no one?