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What I Think About Conference Expansion

John Radcliffe

Is anyone else experiencing deja vu? I swear, we just went through this whole thing, not that long ago and once again the Mountaineers find themselves in the middle of the another imploding conference after the premiere football team(s) are departing for greener pastures. This time it is the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns instead of the Miami Hurricanes and Virginia Tech Hokies but the effects are still quite the same - the death of a conference and the remaining teams quickly trying to find a lifeboat from the sinking ship they are standing on.

I Dont Understand

I know that Oklahoma was frustrated with the partnership with FoxSports. The Sooners, who were consistently in the mix for the College Football Playoffs, were saddled with being the biggest fish in a small pond. FoxSports chose, rightly or wrongly, that instead of trying to outdo ESPN, they would simply avoid ESPN. Fox announced “Big Noon Saturdays” and that they would showcase their premiere game at 12:00 PM instead of 7 or 8 PM like ESPN did.

Play in the mid-day sun instead of under the lights”

Because of this, the Sooners were trying to host national top 10 or top 100 players for a showcase game at 11:00 AM Central while Alabama Crimson Tide or LSU or Georgia Bulldogs got to play at night on national TV. This frustrated the Sooners so they chose to jump ship.

I don’t get it. The current format of the playoffs doesn’t guarantee anyone a shot but the “best 4” and I have my major qualms with that. The proposed model of 12 teams, featuring all 5 conference champions, a G5 champion and 6 at-large spots, would seem to benefit the Sooners more if they were still in the Big 12. Oklahoma has won the Big 12 every year but two since WVU joined and they continue to recruit at a top-5 level. They are going to be in the mix yearly. Why would you make your path harder?

For the Longhorns, you have to wonder if the 200M that the athletic department has annually generated will decrease and if the university can cope with the loss of 20-30M dollars. The Longhorns generated 200M last year but spent 180M. 15M comes from their current Longhorn Network contract with ESPN. As far as on the field goes, the Longhorns have fewer 10-win seasons than the Mountaineers this past decade and more seasons below .500. How does moving to a stronger conference help those numbers?

4 (Times) 16 (Equals) 64

I’ve long been a proponent of 128 teams in Division 1 (FBS), 8 conferences, 16 teams each. Each conference holds a conference championship game and the 8 winners make the playoffs. That is your 16-team college football playoff. The problem is that there are currently 130 teams. That means two teams would be relegated to FCS. Now I don’t care. I just want equal footing for all, but a team that is relegated is going to be mad.

The SEC’s poaching of Oklahoma and Texas is the logical first step towards the ultimate 128-goal and it is also the short-term first step towards four conferences, 64 teams. The SEC has become the first “Super Conference”. The remaining conference are likely to follow suit, because none of the conference leaders has vision so they all follow the money and the power and whoever is bold enough to take the first step.

This puts the remaining 8 teams in the Big 12 in a pickle. The SEC has 16 teams, the ACC has 15 (assuming Notre Dame). The Big Ten has 14 and the Pac-12 has 12.

16 + 15 + 14 + 12 = 57. 64- 57 = 7. Someone is getting left out.

Argue about Notre Dame separately, but the ACC is going to push for Notre Dame. Assume West Virginia finally gets in the ACC. The Big Ten could take Kansas and Iowa State.

That leaves 5 schools remaining in the Big XII and four slots in the Pac-12. To be honest, the Pac-12 could ultimately choose not to expand to any of those remaining five schools: Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor, Texas Tech and Kansas State. If any of those five schools (or really any of the remaining 8) are somehow excluded from the next round of conference football, there are fanbases who are going to be pushed out of college football. TCU and Oklahoma State have earned a right to be in the conversation of “big-time football” and Baylor, Kansas State and Texas Tech have all been players recently. College football doesn’t need to lose fanbases right now.

Streaming Markets > TV Markets

Ten years ago, expansion was about bringing in new TV markets so you could negotiate TV contracts. You wanted to be able to say we had major metropolitan areas like New York City or Washington, DC or whatever other areas might have been available. Not all of the areas were about cities (Nebraska to B1G) but that was the general driving force. Now, television markets have shifted and we are looking at homeowners who are streaming their services more than they are buying from a cable company. This should mean that having households out of state would play well because you want to be able to watch your favorite team. Additionally, a majority of West Virginia residents are going to tune in to watch the Mountaineers.

This should all benefit the Mountaineers if the other conferences start expanding. West Virginia is more attractive now than they were ten or fifteen years ago. Still, they are going to have to be proactive and beat that point home.

ACC or Bust

The Big 12 experiment did its job. We can discuss the merits of whether or not West Virginia was a good fit in the Big 12 but WVU got from the Big 12 what it needed: relevancy in the way of big time football and cash. West Virginia isn’t spending 55 million on stadium renovations or millions more on locker room upgrades if its stuck in the American Athletic Conference and receiving 9M a year. The ACC is not even a potential landing spot if the Mountaineers are stuck in the AAC right now. West Virginia remained relevant because of the Big 12 and it swam in cash from the revenue sharing.

With the loss of the two flag-bearing universities from the Big 12, West Virginia needs to get into the ACC. “Academics” were the reason we were held back last time. Our current AD, Shane Lyons was “second-in-command” from 2001 - 2011 so he knows all of the conversations that were being held and being spoken about West Virginia and why we weren’t included. He, hopefully, has been trying to rectify that in case the ACC were ever available to West Virginia again. Hopefully, his network of associates and athletic directors will allow him to speak the language necessary to secure WVU a spot in the ACC.

The ACC has to be the landing spot. Nowhere else. The ACC is where WVU needs to be. West Virginia needs to play Pitt and Virginia Tech and Syracuse yearly, and it needs to renew the rivalries it developed over the past 50-plus year. If Shane Lyons is able to sprinkle fairy dust and get WVU into the ACC, it will be the miracle that all fans needed. We cannot land in the AAC or the Pac-12 and we can’t stay the Big 8. West Virginia needs to remain relevant in college football.