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Is WVU a loser in conference shuffling?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you haven't followed the College Conference Carnival lately, you might have missed that the Atlantic Coast Conference added Louisville as its 14th member late last year.

You might have missed that recently the ACC effectively tied its members together by signing a grant-of-rights deal through 2026-27.

And you might have missed that, since then, many are looking at WVU - then placing their thumb and index finger on their forehead.

The Mountaineers are being called losers on the Carnival realignment merry-go-round.

Here's the deal. Grant-of-rights deals force conference members to sign over their television rights for the length of the contract. Within the Big 12, WVU's new league, that deal is through 2025. The Mountaineers can leave before then, but the Big 12 will retain their television rights for that period. So they ain't leavin'.

The Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 also have such deals, which left the ACC as the only so-called vulnerable league to possible expansion plucking.

Since the ACC's announcement, though, some are saying conference realignment will cease. The claim is you may resume understanding which teams are in your favorite school's conference.

While the dust settles, WVU is being called the Biggest Loser, especially in regard to geography. Fine columnist Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman newspaper was one to place the label and said "the Mountaineers appear stuck on an island" and that "10 years of being 878 miles from your nearest conference member will get old."

Maybe he's correct. Yet it all boils down to one question: Had the Big 12 selected Louisville as a new member instead of West Virginia, would the ACC have then invited the Mountaineers?

One would assume the answer would have been yes. That would have placed WVU in a much more fan-friendly ACC. Away games would have been much easier drives.

Yet many years ago, I learned what happens when you assume. (The character of Felix Unger on "The Odd Couple" first explained it to me using a chalkboard.)

On Tuesday, I asked WVU athletic director Oliver Luck about the assumption. I asked him about interest from the ACC during the Big East's effective breakup.

"There was never any indication they were interested in us despite the many times we reached out to them," Luck said on Tuesday. "There was never an indication [of interest], which is not surprising if you use history as a guide, going back to us leaving the Southern Conference.

"In the early 2000s, the ACC took in [Virginia] Tech, Boston College and Miami. There's been no indication of interest in us over the last 60 years.

"I don't know why. We made the best decision for us [to join the Big 12] under the circumstances, and I still think it was the best decision for us."

A little history lesson: The charter members of the Southern Conference were Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Washington & Lee. In 1922, the SoCon added Florida, LSU, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tulane and Vanderbilt. Duke joined later. (Can you imagine the TV deal that would get today?)

Marshall was in the SoCon from the 1976-77 season to 1996-97 and WVU was in from 1950-51 to 1967-68.

The Southern Conference is famous for its splits into the SEC and ACC. WVU, though, was never a part of either conference. It left the SoCon and became an independent. Then the ACC took in Tech, BC and Miami in 2003. No WVU. In 2011, it took in Pittsburgh and Syracuse. No WVU.

One could postulate the Mountaineers would have been next in line for the ACC, but little about realignment has made sense, starting with Penn State moving to the Big Ten in 1993.

Why would WVU, considering history, and considering Luck's feedback at the time, have passed on an invite to the Big 12? And would Luck be employed today had WVU passed and then watched ACC select, say, Cincinnati over West Virginia because of, say, a larger television market?

The Mountaineers are not losers. They might be the most misplaced, but they are definitely not losers. Right now, that tag belongs to Cincinnati and Connecticut, the schools completely left out.

Yes, perhaps traveling will get old for those within the WVU athletic department. But you know what? For the life of me I can't remember those at Penn State whining about travel all these years.

Until Rutgers and Maryland (which have accepted Big Ten invitations) land on Nittany Lion schedules, the closest league school to State College, Pa., is Ohio State. Then Michigan.

So, yes, maybe WVU is on an island. But compared to Cincy and UConn, that island is Bali.

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

 

  

 

  

 


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