Big 12 offers WVU seat at 'big boys' table'

Saturday, November 5, 2011

So what does West Virginia University’s jump to the Big 12 Conference mean to West Virginians?

Well, to begin to answer that question, let us first go back to early October.

It had been a few weeks since longtime Big East members Pitt and Syracuse announced their departure to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Connecticut made it known it was looking to jump ship, as well.

WVU had contact with the ACC and Southeastern Conference, and different rumors popped up every day linking the Mountaineers to any number of locations. West Virginia was in a constant state of hysteria because conference realignment discussions always ended the same way for WVU fans: It was get out or bust. Most West Virginians equated a future in the Big East with a destiny of being forgotten. WVU is the state’s pro team, and without a rescue vest, fans worried that the Mountaineers would be tossed aside in an irrelevant league that could not compete with the power conferences and certainly would not retain its Bowl Championship Series automatic-qualifying status.

Certain Morgantown employers told me that work production was close to nothing in the weeks following the Pitt and Syracuse announcement. I had one person compare the attention their employees paid to this daily drama to what it’s like in his office the first two days of March Madness — but this situation lasted a month, not a Thursday and Friday.

From a geography and rivalry standpoint, the ACC would have made the most sense. Most WVU fans would have fully embraced competing in a division with the likes of Pitt, Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech — all easy drives from Morgantown.

But the ACC never came calling, and short of a czar appointing himself or herself ruler of college athletics and reconfiguring these unwieldy conferences, WVU was forced to deal with possibilities in this realm. Pieces were moving, and it was clear a line was being drawn between the “haves” and “have-nots” in college athletics.

Enter the Big 12 Conference. The travel is long, the rivalries don’t exist and, from an outsiders’ perspective, it appears the Big 12 is not a place that lacks strong personalities and interesting characters. If the Big East lacks any leadership, it appears the Big 12 has too much of it. But given the alternative of competing in a watered-down Big East whose members continue to look for ways out, the Big 12 was and is WVU’s best option, and that’s why the school accepted the invitation on Oct. 28.

Several longtime WVU fans worry about the future and what this will ultimately mean to the university, and others may not like the general direction of college athletics, but the Big 12 offers more stability than the Big East.

The TV agreement locks the Big 12 schools together for six years, which assures big money, a BCS bid and competition at the highest level.

Oh, WVU understands the step it has taken. The trips to Rutgers and UConn have been replaced by the journeys to Texas and Oklahoma, and the Mountaineers are no longer top dog in a conference, but the underdog. The ones who crave quality football can’t wait for WVU’s schedule next fall. No more complaining about the lack of exciting, compelling and quality competition at Milan Puskar Stadium.

So many questions wait to be answered in this move, but I think the response of one WVU booster, who called me the afternoon the Mountaineers accepted the Big 12 invitation, sums up the overall vibe in West Virginia right now:

“We just got ourselves a seat at the big boys’ table.”

That was WVU’s main initiative in this latest round of conference realignment.

— Drew Rubenstein is the Sports Editor of The Dominion Post, in Morgantown, WV. He can be reached at