Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
What does Conference Realignment Part Threeve mean for the WVU Mountaineers?
If you've been checking the Twitters or running recon over at ESPN.com in the last day or so, you may have noticed that the top 2 teams in the BCS both lost on Saturday - the first time in years that both went down on the same day. Or you could have seen that Tajh Boyd won the Walter Camp National Player of the Week award over a record-setting day from WVU's Tavon Austin. If you looked real close, you probably noted that the Miami Hurricanes self-imposed a bowl ban this season, effectively eliminating them from the ACC title game.
Then, there was a little story that generated so little excitement from pretty much everyone involved that you may have missed it at first. Yes, Maryland and Rutgers are joining the B1G TEN conference. I'm not going to link everything I say here, but just trust me. Maryland's board of trustees approved the move today, Rutgers is supposed to follow suit tomorrow, and then UConn is expected to take Maryland's place in the ACC basketball tournament shortly thereafter. All of this is of course based on money, and the 200 million households in the NY/NJ/MD/DC area certainly provide fertile ground from which Jim Delany's B1G TEN Network may harvest new subscribers, and, by extension, silos full of money. I guess at least New Jersey and Maryland are contiguous to the conference's current geographic footprint, so they have that going for them...which is nice.
Debate the merits of those moves all you want, but being the narcissists that we are, we're concerned about how this impacts West Virginia. First of all, it's a fairly significant blow to our budding stranglehold on the northeast. Prior to this move, Penn State was the only school north and east of Morgantown that could lay claim to participating in one of the four top-shelf football conferences. And with the Nittany Lions on probation the next 4 years, WVU was in a great position to poach recruits and fans from all across the northeast. Now? Maryland and Rutgers (who is steadily climbing in football respectability) can both tout their B1G membership to recruits and fans alike. That's going to make life harder for the Mountaineers, who have been fighting hard for those recruits and fans for decades, only to lose them to Penn State, Pitt, Syracuse, Maryland, Virginia, and Virginia Tech. Big XII membership would have given WVU a leg up on those schools, but that advantage has been eroded.
The other question is what happens next in the realignment carousel? Obviously, the Big East and ACC are both weakened by the deal. The ACC will grab UConn to get back to 14 teams, but will probably stand pat from there. The SEC, at 14 teams, is likely holding steady. And it may or may not be safe, but I'll assume the B1G is staying at 14 as well. The Big East is currently looking at 11 schools once Navy joins in 2015. You have to assume they will try to add to get to at least 12, if not 14---Air Force would make the most sense, as they could be put in the western division with San Diego State, Boise State, Houston, SMU, and Memphis. BYU and Army may be on the table as well, plus traditional cast-off ECU.
The elephant in the room is of course the Big XII, which has only 10 teams. Member institutions and conference brass have maintained that they are fine at 10, with the traditional round-robin schedule. Also, any new teams would have to add value to the current television contract. The only available schools falling into that category (with the exception of probably Louisville) currently reside in the ACC, and that conference has a $50 million buyout. However, that buyout clearly didn't stop founding member Maryland from leaving. Does that mean that teams like Florida State and Clemson may be ripe for the picking as well? If so, what direction does the Big XII go? Does it take those two and stop at 12? Why not pursue Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech too? Or maybe Louisville?
I wasn't going to inject too much personal opinion here, but I can't help myself. I sincerely hope the Big XII goes after those ACC teams and guts the league that started this whole mess in the first place. I hope WVU winds up in the Big 16 East with FSU, Miami, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Louisville, and one other decent team from the ACC (UNC? NC State? UVA? Don't care.). To me, that's the best of all possible worlds---geographic proximity to our conference mates, renewed rivalries with Louisville and VT, quality football without Duke, Wake Forest, and Boston College weighing us down, and the stability that the Big XII anchors like Texas and Oklahoma offer. Oh, and the chance to play those current Big XII teams on a rotating basis or in the conference championship game. I know it won't happen, but a guy can dream, can't he?