West Virginia University’s impending move to the Big 12 Conference is set to become official July 1. It is a move that has many shaking their heads, because of the geographical differences between WVU and the other member schools. Iowa State, in Ames, Iowa, is the closest school to Morgantown at 870 miles. Travel for the athletic teams and fans alike will no doubt prove challenging.
It is understandably difficult for many to make sense of the situation, and I’m not here to try to explain anything in detail. Despite the absence of a mountain of facts, I will try to explain why the move to a conference half way across the country makes sense to me. Actually, I can’t say that the move makes sense so much as it simply became the best option available.
There are a few simple factors that led WVU to the Big 12. There may be better ways to phrase it depending on your point of view, but WVU is in the Big 12 because the ACC and SEC wouldn’t take them.
Is that a fact?
I’m not positive, but that information is widely accepted as true. Some say WVU tried three times last fall to reach out to the ACC for inclusion, but to no avail. It was also considered reliable information that when the SEC expanded to 14 teams by adding Missouri, that the 14th team was either going to be Missouri or WVU.
Some question the urgency of WVU’s course of action. If you are a fan of the WVU football program, there was little choice but to seek a new home and get out of the Big East. Last September the ACC invited Pitt and Syracuse to join their league. For the second time in a decade the ACC was picking off Big East teams. Those moves almost guaranteed that the Big East would not have a seat at the BCS table after the next round of BCS negotiations. In reality, the Big East’s place at the table was in jeopardy even with Pitt and Syracuse.
College football is driving the financial bus at most major universities. The payouts in the Big East are fractional compared to those of the SEC, Big 10 and Big 12. The Big 10 was not interested in WVU, so it came to pass that the Big 12, having just lost Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC, had interest in West Virginia.
Being accepted into the Big 12 was relatively simple, save for a last second play by Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell who tried to get Louisville into the Big 12 instead of WVU. The bigger problem was getting out of the Big East. WVU was legally committed to remain in the Big East for almost two more years. The Big 12 wanted West Virginia for the 2012 season, because a big money TV contract hinged on the Big 12 having 10 teams in place.
Unfortunately, West Virginia had to sue the Big East to get out of the contract. Although there may have been some neglect by the Big East to protect its football members, the reason for the suit was not to void the contract, but to force a monetary settlement. That was accomplished and West Virginia is days away from inclusion to a premier athletic conference.
Travel issues aside, fans will be hard pressed not to embrace the new schedules that will be presented to them in football and basketball. For at least one season the 10 team conference will provide that every football team plays every other conference opponent. In basketball, every team will play each other at home and away.
Expansion of the Big 12 to 12 teams remains a hot topic and the tide seems to change every few days. The only information out there is stuff generated on Twitter and internet message boards. It is becoming quite silly how the so-called “insiders” have such differing views of what is going on behind the scenes. It seems logical that the Big 12 will end up at 12 teams, but the timeline for that happening is as clear as mud right now.