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Switching conferences could mean football boost for Seton Hill

| Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
(Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review)
Running back David Miller and Seton Hill will join the PSAC next season. (Tribune-Review file)

Seton Hill University, winless in football this season, plans to step up its game when it officially joins the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference in 2013, according to the head of the school's athletics department.

“It's a challenge, and we accept the challenge going into the PSAC,” said Chris Snyder, the school's former football coach who now serves as its athletics director. “We want to be as competitive as we can.”

The school, which will join Gannon and Mercyhurst as just the third private institution in the league, is in the final year of membership in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which will disband following the 2012-13 academic year.

The PSAC currently is comprised of 16 fulltime member schools. Pitt-Johnstown, a non-football playing school, also will join the league in 2013.

“When the PSAC admitted Gannon and Mercyhurst (in 2007), they put a conference cap of 125 scholarship equivalencies for all sports,” Snyder said. “It's up to the schools to decide how to distribute them.”

Snyder said Seton Hill, which sponsors 21 varsity sports, including 19 that compete in the WVIAC and will carry over to the PSAC, will offer the maximum number of scholarships. Football will have 35 scholarships, one below the conference maximum.

“Our plan going in is to offer 125 equivalencies across the board,” he said.

That, Snyder pointed out, has some other PSAC schools, which offer far less in scholarship monies, fuming. But he added that Seton Hill's tuition is much higher on an annual basis than tuition of the predominant state schools in the conference.

“It costs $40,000 to attend Seton Hill and about $18,000 to attend some of the other state schools,” Snyder said. “So, if you allocate a half-scholarship to someone to come to Seton Hill, the bill is still $20,000 for that potential student. At the other schools, it would be $9,000.

“That's the big discrepancy that is often overlooked.”

PSAC commissioner Steve Murray said the league doesn't look at the success rate of schools when considering their inclusion. It's more about geography, he said.

“We've got some not-so-solid teams in our league,” Murray said. “Seton Hill is a good fit for us. It was more about geography and scheduling. Our presidents don't talk about competitiveness.”

Football arguably is the key to athletics at any level because of the revenue it generates and the potential for expanded enrollment at schools.

Seton Hill, while successful in a number of other sports, including a baseball program that climbed to No. 7 nationally and has regularly qualified for the NCAA Division II playoffs, has struggled in football of late.

In 2008, a year after Snyder stepped down as football coach, the Griffins reached the D-II national rankings and qualified for the postseason playoffs under current coach Joel Dolinski in their first full year as a member of the WVIAC.

But the program since has fallen on hard times, winning just four games over the past four years. Seton Hill, which plays its home games about a mile off campus at Offutt Field in downtown Greensburg, is 0-8 this season.

“The move to the PSAC will increase our visibility in the state,” Snyder said. “It will help us recruit in Western Pennsylvania and throughout the state. Having that should raise some awareness. I'm not sure the schools in the WVIAC showed that identity.”

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dmackall@tribweb.com or 412-380-5617.

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