West Virginia University is officially a member of the Big 12 athletic conference. We knew an official announcement was imminent this time last week, but the Tuesday press conference to make the formal announcement was past our deadline, so you will be treated to old news today.
The announcement was made only after WVU and the Big East conference settled a lawsuit. WVU was suing the Big East to get out of the conference by July first of this year. The Big East was suing WVU to make West Virginia honor the 27-month exit notice in the contracts signed by all Big East members. Ugly stuff no matter which side of the argument you are on.
Don’t think for a minute that sides were not taken on this matter.
Several prominent in state journalists have taken athletic director Oliver Luck to task for the decision to sue the Big East, more specifically, not honoring the 27 month notice required by schools desiring to leave the Big East. On the surface, that sentiment is understandable, and that is the position that many local and national media chose to focus on. In doing so, it was easy to paint the WVU action in a bad light.
I will suggest that WVU had little choice, but to get out of the Big East, and as fast as they could. In general, I agree that your word is your bond and if you agree to certain terms, you should honor them.
Why is this case different?
Unfortunately, most of these points are subjective, but here goes. The Atlantic Coast Conference and their aggressive action of taking five Big East teams since 2004 has put WVU in a precarious position. The ACC took in Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech in following the 2003 season. The Big East survived that blow by adding the unlikely triumvirate of South Florida, Louisville and Cincinnati.
While the conference’s football teams put together some decent seasons as a conference, the Big East was constantly ridiculed in the national media of not being worthy of its automatic inclusion into the Bowl Championship Series. In a number of those seasons the Big East enjoyed ratings higher than other BCS conferences, but the national perception was difficult to overcome. Continued calls for the NCAA to take away the Big East’s automatic BCS bid have never waned. That bid is safe for a few more years, but beyond that, who knows?
One got the feeling that some schools, including WVU, were looking for other places to go as rumors of conferences realigning have turned into actual realignments recently. The realignment issue took a critical turn for WVU last September when, out of the blue, came an announcement that Pitt and Syracuse were going to leave the Big East and join the ACC.
Once again the ACC blind sided Big East management. A management group, by the way, that detractors say is much more focused on basketball than football. In fact, in this fractured conference that has eight football and basketball playing schools, and 10 basketball only schools, the non football playing schools have a voice on football matters. That can’t be good if football is driving your athletic budget as it is at WVU.
Long story, short, with Pitt and Syracuse on the way out the writing on the wall was clear for the Mountaineers. Find a stable athletic conference, or risk remaining in a conference that is clearly headed for some very challenging times.
Pitt and Syracuse were given all the time they needed to exit the Big East by the ACC. It is widely believed that West Virginia reached out to the ACC to be included in that conference, but was rebuffed. Rumors swirled that WVU was in strong position to receive an invitation to join the Southeastern Conference, but when the 14th team was added to the SEC, it was Missouri, not West Virginia getting the nod.
WVU appeared to be doomed to remain in the Big East, but with Missouri leaving the Big 12, there was suddenly interest in WVU by the Big 12. The Big 12 scenario evolved quickly and WVU was invited, and Oliver Luck assured the Big 12 brass that the Mountaineers would be ready to play a Big 12 football schedule in 2012.
To do that WVU had to get out of the Big East. Obviously Luck and president Jim Clements decided a lawsuit was the best way to accomplish that. In addition to the 27-month requirement, there is also a $5 million buyout. So, regardless of what the suit said, think of the action taken by WVU not as a means to walk away free and clear of their obligations, but as a vehicle to force the Big East to negotiate a price for WVU to pay in order to leave.
That figure has been reported to be $20 million. A stout figure to be sure, but the projections are that increased revenue from the Big 12 conference will allow WVU to recoup that money in about five years. Also, the Big 12 will give WVU $10 million, half of which is a grant with the other half to be paid back.
WVU has already sent a check for $2.5 million to the Big East. What is interesting here is that with $7.5 left to account for, the money owed to WVU by the Big East for NCAA basketball appearances and bowl games could exceed that amount, thus forcing the Big East to cut WVU a check.
What did West Virginia get for all that money? Time will really tell, but for now we can look at the football schedule that has Texas and Oklahoma on it.