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Shepherd enters much bigger sports arena

By Staff | Jul 6, 2018

When Cheyney, a school just outside Philadelphia, just kept on losing in its humbling games against fellow Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference teams, it was time to finally get away from them.

The 2017 football season saw Cheyney lose by scores of 65-0, 63-0, 56-0, 62-0, 59-7 and 55-6 in conference games. A winter of losing scads of men’s basketball games did nothing to reverse the downward spiral the Wolves found themselves in while trying to compete.

Cheyney informed the PSAC it was pulling out. Find somebody else.

The PSAC has another school that couldn’t win football games, so it just stopped sponsoring football. Mansfield stayed in the conference in other sports, mainly men’s basketball and baseball. Then there’s Pitt-Johnstown, a school that never had football but has men’s basketball and baseball, among other sports, and that maintains its affiliation with the PSAC.

With Cheyney’s withdrawal, the conference sought a replacement school to give it eight football-playing members in both its East Division and West Division. The PSAC is an NCAA Division II league.

The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference petitioned Shepherd to join the conference in Cheyney’s place.

Shepherd was a member of the Mountain East Conference, an NCAA Division II league with schools located in three different states.

The Rams football team had played Indiana (Pa.), California (Pa.), Slippery Rock, Mercyhurst, Kutztown, Shippensburg and West Chester — all PSAC members — in the last seven years, and had seen Millersville before that. The only team Shepherd hadn’t beaten was West Chester.

For several months, Shepherd mulled over the invitation to join the more prestigious PSAC. Recently, the Rams announced they would join the PSAC beginning in the 2019 to 2020 school year.

The men’s division of the new league sponsors cross country, wrestling, swimming, outdoor track and field, and indoor track and field — five sports Shepherd doesn’t compete in. The six men’s sports the new league has that Shepherd does sponsor are football, men’s basketball, baseball, golf, soccer and tennis.

There are six women’s sports sponsored by the PSAC that Shepherd has — basketball, lacrosse, softball, tennis, volleyball and soccer.

Swimming, outdoor track and field, indoor track and field, cross country, field hockey and golf are six women’s sports the PSAC has but Shepherd doesn’t sponsor.

In football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball, Shepherd will be placed in the East Division along with West Chester, Shippensburg, Bloomsburg, Kutztown, East Stroudsburg, Lock Haven and Millersville. Mansfield, the school without a football team, is also in the East Division for basketball and baseball.

In football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball, the West Division schools are Indiana, California, Mercyhurst, Gannon, Slippery Rock, Edinboro, Seton Hill and Clarion. Pitt-Johnstown joins the competition in the West Division for basketball and baseball.

These Pennsylvania schools are often well-funded and have an abundance of waivers, athletic scholarships and money for their teams. West Virginia’s schools, on the other hand, lost $42 million in funding in 2015, which certainly hasn’t set Shepherd up for athletic success. According to an October 14, 2015 study by SAGE Journals, a school’s athletic success or failure is strongly connected to its funding.

And then it’s off to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, for better or for worse. Several football stadiums seat about 10,000. Others, including Shepherd, have between 5,000 and 8,000 seats.

The Mountain East Conference had only a few well-heeled schools that could provide numerous athletic scholarships.

NCAA Division II rules allow its member institutions to give 36 football scholarships, 10 in both men’s and women’s basketball, nine in soccer, nine in baseball, 10.8 in lacrosse and 4.5 in volleyball, according to NCAA guidelines.

Shepherd has never had 36 football scholarships to give its athletes, nor has it ever really been close to that allowable number. According to an email from Rams’ Sports Information Director “Chip” Ransom, Shepherd gave away 31 football scholarships this year. West Chester, Indiana, California, Slippery Rock et al have the 36 football scholarships allowed.

Money talks. It can win games.

Over any extended period of years, the schools with the full complement of scholarships are likely to win more games.

The Rams play a full Mountain East Conference schedule of games in all sports in the 2018 to 2019 school year.