The defections also knocked WVU out of the annual conference basketball tournament in Raleigh at the 14,000-seat Reynolds Coliseum, which opened in 1949 on the N.C. State campus.
The depleted Southern Conference played its 1954 tournament in Morgantown and moved to Richmond the following year to begin an eight-year run.
Within a few days of West Virginia's failure to be admitted, at least one state media member speculated on the reasons.
"The geography is being blamed again, according to one report, for West Virginia's exclusion from the rebel faction,'' wrote the Morgantown Post's Tony Constantine. "We're too far away from the rest of the schools, they say. That would not be so bad for major sports but would mean too great a traveling expense for the minor sports.''
Another West Virginian who remembers the geographic challenges of the 1950s is Rene Henry, a Charleston native who worked as the Mountaineers' sports information director from 1954 through 1956.
"It was hell traveling,'' Henry recalled recently from his home in Seattle. "When the basketball team played at Duke, we drove from Morgantown to Durham. And there was no such thing as interstates. And it wasn't just for football and basketball, but what about all your other teams?''
White remembers that Red Brown, who coached the Mountaineer basketball team in the early 1950s and later worked as athletic director, once told him that Maryland had worked to prevent West Virginia's inclusion.
"I remember talking with Red Brown years later,'' White recalled, "and he said Maryland blackballed us.''
That was not quite the case, said Barrett.
"Maryland didn't blackball us,'' he said. "Maryland simply supported Virginia instead of West Virginia. Red Brown was the basketball coach at the time, and he was under the impression that Maryland kept us out. But they only kept us out by virtue of the fact that [the seven schools] admitted the University of Virginia, and that was the eighth and last team.''
White agrees that travel problems played a role in the ACC's snub of the Mountaineers.
"I really think that the difficulty in getting into Morgantown hurt us,'' he said.
It's not as if the Mountaineers weren't good enough to compete in the ACC. In 1952, the WVU football team went 7-2, including a 13-6 victory over South Carolina in Columbia. WVU also picked up a 16-0 victory in Pittsburgh that year.
In 1953, the Mountaineers posted a 4-0 league record and an 8-1 mark in the regular season, crushing ACC member N.C. State 61-0 and losing to the Gamecocks, another ACC team, 20-14. Although the Mountaineers lost to Georgia Tech in the Sugar Bowl that year, they still finished No. 10 in the final AP poll.
In basketball, West Virginia compiled a 23-4 mark in the 1951-52 season, earning Brown the honor of Southern Conference Coach of the Year.
And not long after the eight schools formed their new conference, Brown recruited Rodney Hundley of Charleston High School, who was considered the best basketball prospect in the nation. Hundley, incidentally, initially had committed to N.C. State, but circumstances intervened, prompting him to sign with the Mountaineers.
In retrospect, those seven Southern Conference defectors might have admitted the Mountaineers had they foreseen Hundley's brilliance as both a player and a showman and his ability to pack the house. It would have changed West Virginia's athletic history.
Reach Mike Whiteford at 304-348-7948 or mikewhitef...@wvgazette.com.