The shotgun wedding between West Virginia and the Big XII appears to be back on. At least according to one, quick, two paragraph report from one of college football’s top insiders.
The news came via Brett McMurphy’s, “McMurphy’s Law,” blog on CBSSports.com this morning, and read:
West Virginia has been invited to join the Big 12 Conference, college football industry sources told CBSSports.com Friday.
The Mountaineers will accept the invitation, sources said. The Big 12 is expected to officially announce the invitation later today.
And with it ends days of speculation, confusion and political angst. It also starts a whole new avalanche of college football realignment rumor and innuendo.
For those of you who’ve been under a rock for the last week, well, with all this realignment talk skewing an otherwise excellent season, we don’t blame you. However the essentials that you need to know are simple. With Missouri expected to leave the Big XII for the SEC, the Big XII was in the hunt to add one more team to get them back to the 10 that they’re playing at right now. On Tuesday they verbally invited West Virginia, and it seemed as though the Mountaineers would be that team. Within hours though, representatives from Louisville- not wanting to get left out in realignment cold- contacted the Big XII to make a pitch on their school’s behalf. There was a report that Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell even got involved as well.
But according to McMurphy, it seems as though the Mountaineers are the apple of the Big XII’s eye. An updated report by McMurphy says that the announcement could come as early as Friday afternoon.
Now what becomes interesting is what’s next for each conference.
Assuming that Missouri leaves, and assuming that West Virginia accepts (which they both most certainly will), it appears as though the Big XII is content to stay at 10 teams (to any mathematicians reading, I apologize for the confusing numbers game). Remember, when the conference was stripped of Nebraska and Colorado 18 months ago, the league renegotiated their television contract based on a 10-team model, meaning that if the conference went to 12 teams, each member school would be making less money than they actually are now. Nobody is giving any money back, which is why for now, 10 appears to be the magic number.
Things are much more tenuous for the Big East, which continues to get picked apart like a dead carcass on the side of the road (sorry for the graphic image there). With West Virginia gone, and the departures of Syracuse and Pitt to the ACC, that means that there are now just five football playing schools, Cincinnati, Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida and UConn. (Not that anyone is leaving anytime soon, since the Big East seems content to holding each departing team to a 27-month window before they’re allowed to leave the conference, per an a conference-wide agreement. Meaning that West Virginia might not be playing in the Big XII until the 2014-2015 school year.)
As for the Big East’s own future, the conference has made a strong bid to try and get to 12 football playing schools, in hopes of retaining their automatic BCS bid. But by the day, that gets more uncertain. There have been overtures to schools like Boise State (where Commissioner John Marinatto was supposedly visiting on Thursday) and Air Force to play football only in the conference, as well as well full-membership offered to others like Houston, SMU and Central Florida.
The problem of course is whether those schools want to enter a crumbling conference. It’s no secret that the remaining members want out, with West Virginia openly politicking for weeks, Louisville doing the same this week, and UConn pushing for ACC membership over the last couple weeks as well. Even if the five do stay, is the conference, with the other additions enough to keep an automatic BCS berth? Especially without a flag-ship, national program like West Virginia? It's hard to say.
Speaking of the Mountaineers, well, they apparently have their new home. The question becomes how much of a geographical fit the school is, in a conference based mostly out of the Midwest. As a West Virginia alum told me the other day, “Our fan-base, which has been known to travel so well over the years, just won’t be able to anymore because of cost.” On that level, many in the fan base are disappointed.
Of course we learned a long time ago that conference realignment had little to do with travel, geography or even common-sense.
West Virginia made the right move for them on Friday. Congratulations to their players and fans.
The question now becomes, what's next?
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