Yesterday, the Big 12 conference dropped its schedules for the 16-team league that will form in 2024. The schedule currently only shows the home and away teams that each team in the league is going to face, no dates are given, for the next four seasons (2024 through the 2027 season).
There are a few things that jump out to you as you initially analyze the schedule and as you decide to dig deeper. The first thing that jumps out is the fact that West Virginia does not have what is considered a “protected rival” aka a team that West Virginia will face every year. The closest team would be the Cincinnati Bearcats, but the Mountaineers do not play them in 2025 and we can assume that the Bearcats will be on the schedule most years but there will be years we do not play them.
The second thing that jumps out is that the Big 12 has decided to stick with the 9 game conference schedule, alternating between 5 home games and 4 home games. This was done because many of the schools already have their current non-conference set for several years and the conference did not want to disrupt the current agreements or force schools to add an extra game. I suggest that adding a fourth non-conference game would be challenging, but not extremely difficult, mostly difficult in the next year but you can add future games down the line.
The above graph shows how many times each team plays each other team. Every team plays everyone at least twice, home and away. Each team has a few teams they only place twice, a few more that they play at least three times and there are four games that are “protected rivals”.
Another thing looking at the schedule is the discernible lack of divisions, pods or anything resembling organization. It was assumed that given the large number of teams in the conference, either divisions or pods would be provided, to help make scheduling easier and less clumsy. Without technically being described as a division, West Virginia plays Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Cincinnati, Texas Tech, and UCF three times each.
Division 1 Division 2
West Virginia TCU
Oklahoma State Arizona
Iowa State Arizona State
Kansas State Utah
Texas Tech Colorado
Those are perfectly fine divisions and maybe that was the intent behind the schedule but they don’t have it set that way because we aren’t playing those teams every time. It just creates a very confusing timeline of who and when you play.
The big part, to me, is that most of this is underwhelming, which isn’t a fault in and of itself for the schedule, but more that West Virginia doesn’t have any significant relationships with the teams in the conference and in order to fix this, West Virginia needs to make and create a compelling out of conference schedule.
I’m going to suggest that West Virginia needs to have compelling non-conference schedules - schedules that include Pitt yearly, include a rotation of Virginia Tech, Maryland, Virginia, Syracuse, and other old foes. A schedule that includes two home games, including a home game that West Virginia can build mini packages around to help increase the season ticket sales.
For one, many of these road contests are far away, something that Mountaineer fans have complained about since joining the Big 12 in 2012. The distances of the road conference games limits how many games fans can attend, if they want to attend other games. Additionally, without the natural rival that comes with conference affiliation, the Mountaineers are going to want to play teams that engage the fans. Not just engage the fans, enrage the fans, enrage the fan base and create lasting memories.
Think about the past few years, think about how great it felt to play Virginia Tech in 2017, and how great it was to play Virginia Tech at home! How great it was to go to Blacksburg, to go to Pittsburgh, to play Pitt this year AT HOME!
Look at this future 2025 schedule
at Arizona State
Are you excited to play this schedule? Without Pitt, are you excited for any of those home games? Maybe Colorado with Coach Prime, but will he still be there in 2025? What about 2027 when the home slate is VMI, Ohio, ASU, BYU, UCF and ISU. It would be prudent for Wren Baker to find ways to include traditional rivals in the non-conference schedule, regardless of the “strength” people think. West Virginia doesn’t need an easy schedule, the conference schedule by and large will be easy enough, the non-conference will need to be about the fans, giving them games they can be excited to root for and teams they can root against.