After more than 15 years of competition in the Pennsylvania Athletic Conference, Eastern athletics begins a new era this season as a first-year member of the Middle Atlantic States Collegiate Athletic Corporation’s Freedom Conference.

Having developed a storied reputation in several sports in the PAC, with six teams reaching PAC finals and three claiming championships last year, the athletic department is ready for a fresh start with new challenges.

“The decision to move was for us to be with schools that were a little more similar to us, philosophically and in terms of a total university profile,” Athletic Director Mark Wagner said.

Plans for a conference switch began last summer when the MAC officially invited Eastern to join its program.

“The MAC has a very good reputation,” Wagner said. “It was an honor as a university to be invited to join.”

While many people may quickly recognize that Messiah College is also a member of the MAC, they will not be in the same conference as Eastern. The MAC is actually made up of two separate conferences: Freedom and Commonwealth.

Other members of the Freedom Conference include: Alvernia, Delaware Valley, DeSales, Farleigh-Dickinson Florham, King’s, Manhattenville, Misericordia and Wilkes. Alvernia and Misericordia are familiar foes, making the shift from the PAC this season as well.

The biggest change for most teams, and fans, will be the loss of conference competition with rival neighbor Cabrini. Eastern and Cabrini matches typically bring out the strongest fan base and often result in tight, unpredictable competitions.

Even though the playoff grudge matches with Cabrini will be missing, Wagner believes that most coaches are attempting to retain the Eagle road rivalry by scheduling non-conference matches. This fall, men’s soccer and volleyball will face off with Cabrini at home.

Teams to watch, and root against, from the MAC look to be powerhouses DeSales and King’s. These two programs combined for eight championships during the 2007-2008 season, including DeSales men’s soccer team earning its third consecutive conference title.

However, while each team is looking forward to developing new rivalries and establishing Eastern’s reputation, the switch may also benefit the Eastern community at large.

“From a total university perspective, it could benefit total university enrollment, with the schools we are now associated with,” Wagner said. “It’s a tremendous statement by Eastern University.”

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