While filling time during the extended weather delay at the WVU-Marshall football several weeks ago, Athletic Director Oliver Luck was giving a candid and informative interview to Tony Caridi, including his take on the ongoing conference expansion and realignment.
Among Luck's comments were his observation that realignment in college athletics was inevitable, and the only question was whether this would occur above board and with civility, or whether a knife fight would break out.
It didn't take long to answer that rhetorical question. While most major conferences and schools have been reasonably open about their options, there have been many involved who have acted to the contrary.
The Big East recently was considering a hefty television contract with ESPN, but deferred action purportedly to search for better deals. The chairman of the executive Committee was the Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt reportedly opposed the deal with ESPN, while at the same time along with Syracuse and the Atlantic Coast Conference was sneaking around in the weeds to work out a better deal for themselves. Then we hear from the athletics director at Boston College that the ACC was simply following the advice of ESPN regarding expansion. So now we have the largest sports television network, owned by ABC and writing most of the big checks for college sports, apparently giving advice and direction about which schools to enlist and which to throw to the wolves in this high stakes affair.
The current situation isn't helped by the dysfunctional administration of the Big East Conference. Why would the Big East, for example, allow Notre Dame to vote (apparently in opposition) on a football television contract when they don't play football in the conference? And how much sense does it make when football obviously is driving the bus when it comes to finances that the Commissioner of the league is from a school that doesn't even play major college football (Providence)?
By 2014, the Big East as we know it no longer will exist. The question remains, however, is whether West Virginia University will find a spot in one of the remaining BCS conferences or will WVU be relegated to a league playing East Carolina, Central Florida and Navy?
When one looks at the athletic program at WVU, it is inconceivable that our university would not fit within one of the major conferences. The football program has been ranked more often than not this decade, the basketball team has recently been to a Final Four and two other Sweet 16s, and many of the other sports are more than competitive. The athletic facilities are excellent, the financial stability of the athletic program is solid, the fan base is passionate, and the Mountaineers have a loyal following around the nation from transplanted West Virginians.
I find it interesting that for some the major criteria for selecting a team for expansion are the number of TV sets in their market. That is a short-sighted view. When millions of fans tune in to the Alabama-LSU game, it won't be because there are lots of TV sets in Alabama and Louisiana. It will be because these are superb football teams supported by passionate and rabid fans. There are millions of televisions in the New York area, for example, but many more of those watching sports will be watching the Alabamas, Michigans and Oklahomas of the world than they will be of Rutgers, UConn or Syracuse. Simply having lots of TV sets in a "market" does not mean they will be tuned to a particular game.
The Big Ten showed a more reasonable approach when it chose Nebraska over Missouri to be the league's 12th team.. There are many more televisions in Missouri, but Nebraska has a nationally recognized football winning tradition and a fan base with undivided loyalties. Would as many people around the country have watched last Saturday night if Ohio State were playing Missouri instead of Nebraska? I don't think so, and that is an example of why the Big Ten made the right choice.
It is reported that West Virginia is at least on the radar screen for a possible invitation to the Big 12 or SEC. Let's hope that those making the decisions will recognize that WVU brings a lot to the table beyond just the number of TV sets in the Mountain State.
As fans we will need to be patient. This process is far from over and may yet take some time to fully play out. Because of the 27-month exit requirement, the Big East should remain as is for the next two seasons, so there is no reason for panic. At least not yet.
This Friday: The Mountaineers return to action this Friday night when they travel to the Carrier Dome to play Syracuse. This matchup was a source of frustration last year for WVU fans last season as the Mountaineers were unable to put any points on the board in the second half and lost to the Orange in a stunning 19-14 upset.
Scoring points won't be a concern this time around, but Syracuse has shown the ability to score as well and will have an enthusiastic crowd in support. West Virginia 44, Syracuse 24.