Reading a Fox Sports piece about the winners and losers of conference realignment from a link in Friday's Shotgun/Throwdown, I began to worry that the gripe of West Virginia University's membership in the Big 12 as the league's "outlier" school was beginning to gain traction outside the more disgruntled members of the Mountaineer faithful.
Then I saw the writer's tagline and I dismissed it as "typical Stewart Mandel." (While I'm of the mind that, even in its best outlook, his eye to Morgantown has been jaundiced, I respect his expertise as a columnist enough that I look forward to the day that WVU's performance merits his attention and regard.) That said, he's got a point. I mean, if you prefer ruling in hell to serving in heaven, Mandel's take has a superficial validity. But where would he have us go to have a chance at relevance?
I agree with a number of commenters on that piece that we finally are in a league that is culturally more in tune with our fanbase. (The SEC being the only other one.) Of the Power 5 conferences, the Big 12 was a perfect fit. My perception is that the Big 10 is the rustbelt bluebloods, the ACC is the stuck-up South (as opposed to the SEC's down-to-earth South) and the Pac 12 is left coast elite.
As much as the rivalries of the Big East in its prime made sense on a map — especially with Pitt, Virginia Tech, and, to a lesser extent, Syracuse — this was a largely metropolitan conference and, Blacksburg notwithstanding, we were the stop in cowtown. "Geography" isn't just latitude and longitude; it's also about the inhabitants of the land. We are in league with our own people now.
Again, short of having a part of the cash cow that is the SEC, we couldn't have landed in taller cotton. I have faith that the upgrades in facilities from sharing in Big 12 revenue and the depth of talent we can draw as a result of membership in a Power 5 conference will come to reflect that.
"Biggest loser?" Shoot, despite Mandel's five-year timeline for "realignment hell" breaking loose, we're not yet that long into the league and are really only now starting to see the full impact (read: benefit) of the move. We're far and away in a better place than we would have been had we stood pat. Getting accustomed to deeper water isn't the same thing as drowning — and we're finally getting to the point where we can swim.