CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- O
The MEC hopes for - at least - regional respect on the NCAA Division II landscape but will have to continue battling for what the West Virginia Conference had sought but didn't receive since moving to D2 in 1997.
Only one school - Shepherd - continues to represent positively the 11-team league that includes "like-minded institutions."
Shepherd made its MEC debut with a 33-0 rout of Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference power Shippensburg, which was ranked seventh coming into the game. The Rams winning, especially at Shepherdstown, is not at all surprising, but the score was more one-sided than any reasonable observer could have expected.
The Rams won the West Virginia Conference 10 times since 1991, or 45 percent of those 22 seasons. While we're on the subject of the WVC's most-decorated team since the league moved from NAIA to NCAA Division II in 1997, Shepherd has seven postseason appearances during that time. Glenville was the first to reach the playoffs from the conference on a team that included current head coach Dave Hutchison, who, in 1997 was the Pioneers' team captain and a first-team all-league choice.
In 2008, Seton Hill represented the WVC in the playoffs, losing to the PSAC's California, Pa., in the second round. The Griffins now call the PSAC home.
West Liberty claimed a spot in 2009, losing in the second round. The Hilltoppers lost their opener to Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference power Edinboro that year before reeling off 10 regular-season consecutive victories.
In 2011, Concord reached the playoffs before dropping a three-point decision in the first round. Concord earned a spot that might have been derailed by a midseason league defeat to Glenville, but was heavily assisted by a two-touchdown win over Shepherd the week before. The Mountain Lions managed to play third-ranked Kutztown (another PSAC member) close before falling by three in the first round.
In 1997, the Pioneers were unlucky to draw New Haven (Conn.), coached by current NFL head coach Tony Sparano, in the first round.
In short, Shepherd can't be to the MEC what the Memphis men's basketball program was to Conference USA for so many years - the only team anybody noticed.
I tweeted prior to last Saturday's games that the only league team that can afford a loss en route to a playoff appearance is Shepherd. That limb is pretty sturdy.
I'm not here to rain on anybody's parade, but the MEC's first weekend wasn't it wants to hang its hat on.
Seven of the 11 teams in the conference lost to non-league opponents with West Virginia State - among the WVC's punching bags for many years - dropping an inexplicable 31-13 decision to arguably the PSAC's worst program, Lock Haven. The Bald Eagles were 1-52 in their last 53 games before welcoming last week what turned out to be a respite in their challenging PSAC schedule.
In fairness, State is beginning a new era under first-year - and first-time - head coach Jon Anderson.
The University of Charleston, coming off a 9-2 season in its final campaign in the WVC when it didn't reach the postseason, suffered a 44-14 hammering at Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association member Shaw University - not exactly a household name that was picked fifth in the CIAA preseason rankings.
The league's first-week winners were Fairmont State (37-29 win over Seton Hill), Concord (18-10 over No. 23 and South Atlantic Conference member Lenoir-Rhyne), Notre Dame College (37-31 over Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference cellar-dweller Malone) and Shepherd.
The MEC is something of a reincarnation of the WVC, with eight schools coming from the defunct league and joined by Notre Dame (Ohio), Urbana and UVa-Wise.
I once mistakenly referenced - and was subsequently corrected by Commissioner Reid Amos - the MEC as something of a revamping of the WVC, which is factually inaccurate, but closer than you think nationally.
There will come a time when we quit talking about the WVC and start focusing solely on the MEC, indicated by a logo that has four shades of blue inside the 'O' of the word Mountain representing a mountain and horizon.
I figure I'll stop bringing up the inevitable comparisons when D2's newest conference starts earning more respect than did the league that held eight of its teams for its 16 years as a Division II conference.
Despite what some coaches and school administrators believe is a lack of respect from the Super Region 1 power brokers, respect isn't something that is given, it's earned.
And, the MEC did very little toward that end last week.
The only way to go is up.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at richstev...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4837.