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Wallace stands up for WVU, counters Kendrick

SNIPPETS OF news have been flying over the past few days concerning conference realignment.

TCU officially rejected the Big East and cast its lot with the Big 12 on Monday. The Big East authorized commissioner John Marinatto to "engage in formal discussions with additional institutions" and is considering moving to a 12-team football league.

Air Force's athletic director said his school's "interest is high in the Big East." Army, Navy, Temple, Central Florida and East Carolina are said to be other candidates.

There have been other reports of mild interest. The Boston Globe quoted Boston College AD Gene DeFilippo, whose school is in the ACC, as saying, "We always keep our television partners close to us ... TV - ESPN - is the one who told us what to do." The conclusion drawn is because Marinatto turned down a nine-year, $1.4 billion television contract offer from ESPN, the network sabotaged the league by suggesting the ACC take in Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

What else? Well, as mentioned here as a possibility back in September, a report says Boise State could be a Big East target. (Then, however, the talk centered on a possible Big 12-Big East merger.)

None of the news of late, however, suggests West Virginia is moving out of the Big East. A highly placed source at WVU, who asked to remain anonymous, said on Monday there's been no contact lately from the SEC, Big 12 or ACC. The source said schools and conferences across the country are waiting to see whether Missouri moves to the SEC. More dominos may fall afterward.

Within the swirl, however, came a report that quoted state native, WVU booster and Arizona Diamondbacks managing general partner Ken Kendrick, who made a fortune by founding Datatel, Inc.

He said within realignment, "all the decisions will be driven very much by media rights." He compared the action to that of mergers. "The acquirer asks, 'What does this acquisition bring to my company or to my conference?' " He added that WVU "just can't get check marks for a number of things that are important to the acquirer. It's not as though we would bring no value, but, compared to other schools, we don't bring as much value."

There is, however, another state native out there with an extensive sports business background with quite a different perspective. That's Chris Wallace, a Buckhannon native, avid Mountaineer fan and general manager and vice-president of basketball operations for the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies.

"I strongly disagree with the notion that WVU does not bring great value to one of the top five BCS conferences," Wallace said on Monday. "The conference realignment is driven by football. WVU has an exciting, Top 20 football program with a dynamic head coach in Dana Holgorsen. [The Mountaineers] are in the midst of nine straight bowl appearances with two BCS bowl wins.

"Ever since Don Nehlen took over the football program ... the Mountaineers have basically known continued success and overall relevance."

He mentioned the program's national title runs. He mentioned the professional players produced.

"All that created a very passionate fan base, residing both inside and outside the state," Wallace said. "[That base] travels. ... I've lived in three cities outside West Virginia in the past 18 years and if I had a dollar for every flying WV sticker I've seen on cars while driving outside the state, I could comfortably retire."

Wallace said he believes many are missing the proverbial boat when it comes to WVU.

"I understand football is fueling this," he said. "But the Mountaineers bring tremendous extra value in Bob Huggins' men's basketball program. It's reached the Elite Eight and Final Four in recent years and has a coach in Huggins who is a giant in his profession. He's easily one of the top 10 most recognizable head basketball coaches in the country."

Wallace is passionate on the subject.

"I keep hearing the argument that West Virginia's demographics are limited," he said. "But each one of the current top five conferences have members from small states. At some point, the product put on the fields and courts has to take precedence over mere demographics."

He pointed to the NFL and Green Bay Packers, saying that league and sports in general "would be much poorer off if the small-city Packers never existed."

"Competitiveness, competency, and passion have to account for something - and WVU football and basketball have those traits in abundance."

Wallace pointed specifically to the SEC, which, with the addition of Texas A&M, can claim a following from the Longhorn State east through the south and down through Florida. It can claim the interest of millions and millions of television sets.

"How many more demographics and television sets do they need?" Wallace asked. "What they need is a program with both a Top 20 football and men's basketball team, with a passionate fan base to slip nicely into the East Division - and not force massive geographical upheaval - West Virginia."

Wallace scoffs at the suggestion WVU would flounder in the SEC, pointing out the football progress under Holgorsen in just half a season.

"Where would he have us in a few years with the benefit of continuity and the financial and prestige benefits that SEC membership has to offer?" he asked.

"A move to any of the top five BCS conferences would be a challenge. But our coaches, players, administration and fans would step up."

Points for the power conferences to consider.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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