WVU not in strong bargaining position
MORGANTOWN - So Oliver Luck issued a statement Wednesday afternoon designed to clarify West Virginia's position in the ongoing conference realignment saga.
The West Virginia athletic director's take, more or less verbatim:
"President [James] Clements and I represented West Virginia University at [Tuesday] night's Big East meeting in New York. The group concluded the meeting with a strategy to recruit top-level BCS-caliber institutions that match the league's strong athletic and academic histories and traditions.
"As I stated before, WVU is an excellent flagship, land-grant university, with national-caliber athletic and academic programs. We are, and will remain, a national player in college athletics.
"The conference office will coordinate any further discussion on this issue."
Please allow me to translate:
"We sat through another meeting trying to save the Big East. Same old same old. But, hey, no matter what happens, we'll land on our feet. Now, shut up and stop calling me. What the heck am I supposed to say?''
Indeed, the Big East did have another meeting and they talked about the same things they've talked about for the past six years - who to add and how to keep things together. They got everyone at the table to pledge their undying loyalty.
West Virginia did so grudgingly, having no other options.
Connecticut and Rutgers did so probably with fingers crossed. (Does it say anything that while UConn seems ripe for eventual picking by the ACC that neither the school president nor the athletic director attended the meeting? They instead sent representatives.)
As for Cincinnati, Louisville, South Florida and even TCU? Well, they're all hoping against hope that this all works out again and that somehow the Big East can employ Band-Aid medicine to a severed artery. If they wanted to be in a non-BCS conference they could have stayed where they were.
And who knows? Maybe this works. It would certainly help if Connecticut and Rutgers stay on board, but short of that it seems like a long shot.
Think about this for a moment. If UConn and Rutgers eventually leave, the remaining football schools would consist of just one that has been a member of an automatic-qualifying BCS conference since there was a BCS.
That's it. It's West Virginia and a collection of schools whose membership in an AQ conference came about simply because the Big East had to go out and find the best available leftover talent. Louisville, Cincinnati and USF were recruited to replace Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College. TCU was begging for a seat at the table and the Big East gave it to the Horned Frogs. And the next group to join (Navy, Air Force, East Carolina, Central Florida?) would do so only for the same reason.
It is not, to say the least, a group with strong bargaining power.
I've always been of the opinion that the Big East would retain its BCS status no matter what happened to the membership, for a couple of reasons.
First, there was the whole Northeast market thing. But if UConn and Rutgers were to follow Syracuse and Pitt (with Boston College and Penn State already gone), there is no longer a Big East team in the Northeast market.
So much for that argument.
Then there was the threat of government interference. Members of Congress already make noise when a non-AQ school is perceived to have been screwed over (Utah and Orrin Hatch), and the last thing these conferences want is some sort of anti-trust action against them. They've had a hard enough time fending off investigations aimed at finding out why the Big Six conferences control everything at the expense of the WAC and the MAC and Conference USA. Imagine if they had to defend booting a group out of that inner circle.
Now, though, I'm not so sure that's an issue. Oh, it's still an issue as far as the BCS is concerned because agreements have been struck and contracts signed.
But what happens when the conferences change so much that everyone realizes (and the TV networks agree) that the BCS is now outdated and it's time to reinvent the thing from scratch?
When that happens, who is to say the Big East is even invited into the discussion? The Big Six is now the Big Five. If they got together to revamp the system, it would actually be hailed as long overdue, and absolutely no one outside the Big East would lift a finger to complain that West Virginia and a bunch of former C-USA and WAC members and independents were being left out.
For West Virginia, that is bound to be the scariest thought.
What happens to West Virginia in a Big-East-crumbles scenario?
Well, no one knows, and that scares the school. It can tout its tradition and fan base and alumni and marketing and broad appeal all they want, but if no one buys, well, no one buys.
You know who might eventually buy, though?
The Big 12.
Now let's be honest. A lot of other things could happen. If Missouri stays in the Big 12 or goes to the Big Ten, and if the SEC is unwilling to raid the ACC, who is to say West Virginia doesn't return to the SEC's radar? If the ACC takes UConn, and Rutgers somehow talks its way into the Big Ten, where does the ACC go for a 16th school, ECU or WVU?
There are a ton of other things that could happen, too, including UConn and Rutgers staying put and the Big East surviving.
But let's assume for a moment that West Virginia is standing alone among the former Big East football schools. The Big 12 is right now at nine schools. If Missouri leaves it's down to just eight. Don't think for a moment that the Big 12 won't add two and perhaps four schools.
BYU and Boise State would seem prime candidates. TCU is a long shot because Texas isn't likely to go for that. And while there are plenty of other possibilities across the country (including some that are more geographically in line, like Louisville or Cincinnati), why not West Virginia?
The Big 12 would be adding perhaps the only BCS-level school available and the only one without a home.
Farfetched? Yeah, you're probably right. It would be like a school in eastern Pennsylvania joining the Big Ten or one in Texas joining the Big East.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.