When it was announced in late September that both Syracuse and Pittsburgh were packing up their bags to head to the ACC, it seemed like a strong possibility that most of the football playing members of the Big East would eventually leave with them. At the time most believed the Pac-12 would expand to 16 teams, which would lead to rest of the Big XII to crumble like coffee cake, and send both the entire Big XII and Big East into a perpetual state of cannibalism, with only the strongest conference surviving.
Only it didn’t happen. The Pac-12 stayed at 12, and the key members of the Big XII (mainly Texas and Oklahoma) stayed in place as well, meaning that college football’s musical chairs never really got started… at least not on the level that we expected.
One of the major players who did move though West Virginia, and on Tuesday, ESPN.com’s David Ubben had a very candid interview with Mountaineers Athletics Director Oliver Luck.
In it, Luck admitted something that had long been speculated, but never confirmed: When Syracuse and Pitt left the conference, West Virginia decided that they were leaving with them. It didn’t matter where the Mountaineers went or what conference they ended up in, they were leaving the Big East, and leaving immediately. It wasn’t a matter of “if” or “when,” but “where.”
Luck shared some very interesting details to Ubben about the process, including:
"I didn’t give (the Big East) any explanation. I said we’re leaving. We never flinched. We never blinked. We said we’re not going to be playing in the Big East any longer beyond this season. We made it very clear we had no intention of compromising," Luck said. "We said 'We’re leaving, don’t waste your time trying to convince us to stay. We’re gone.' I think that helped the process. It certainly accelerated it, because they realized very quickly that there was no turning back from us."
Well then. We all knew Luck was a baller, but I don’t think any of us knew that he had brass stones quite like that.
What’s more interesting though is the process from there.
Once Pitt and Syracuse left, it was presumed that everyone in the conference tried to hold things together. Well, apparently not. West Virginia immediately shopped themselves to the SEC, but in the end, heading to college football's best conference was beyond their control. Missouri was in charge, and once the Tigers left for the Southeastern Conference, West Virginia moved to the Big XII to replace them.
More from Luck’s interview with Ubben:
"Missouri held a lot of the cards," Luck said. "We and the SEC and the Big 12 in a sense waited on a final decision on Missouri’s status, and that then prompted additional opportunities and decisions."
Given that statement, it’s safe to assume that had Missouri decided to stay put, West Virginia seemingly would’ve been the SEC's next option. But regardless, the move for the Mountaineers was to the Big XII, and the move was immediate. As Luck said, his school was leaving the Big East, and leaving it immediately. They eventually settled on the $20 million buyout we already knew about, and now, they’re on their way to the Midwest.
Now obviously, to most college football fans, this might be news but none of it is shocking, and you can’t really blame Luck for any of it. As Luck mentions in the article, the Big East hadn’t really proactive in the realignment game, standing pat after expanding to eight teams in 2005, which would be like standing pat on a 13 in a game of blackjack. Eventually the dealer is going to bust you, and eventually college football as a whole did that to the Big East. With Pitt and Syracuse gone, and no real expansion plans from there, West Virginia had no choice but to move on. It was "kill or be killed" and they chose the former, instead of the latter.
(And really, that was the craziest part about the whole thing: According to Luck, no expansion plans were in place when Pitt and Syracuse left, and TCU re-routed themselves to the Big XII. For a conference that had long discussed publicly trying to get to 12 teams, privately, it didn't seem like anyone was working too hard to make it happen.)
Still, it is a bit disappointing, not only for fans of other Big East schools, but also for West Virginia fans themselves. Mountaineers fans are known to travel well, and are as vocal as any fan-base in the Big East, two things that aren’t expected to continue thanks to the geography of the Big XII. Those easy drives from Morgantown to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are in the past, and the move to the Big XII will likely result in watching road games in Stillwater, Lubbock and Austin at home instead. Because of that, it’s led to an interesting paradox with West Virginia fans. Every one I’ve talk to over the last few months have all basically told me the same thing: “I hate the move. But I also understand why we had to do it.”
Those reasons of course include dollars and cents, and the security of being one of college football’s “have’s” instead of one of the “have not’s.” As a matter of fact, Luck mentioned that to Ubben as well.
"It’s much easier to stay in than get knocked out and try to get back in," Luck said. "That was always the fear. I’m not trying to say the Big East is on the outside looking in, but clearly, with the loss of so many good teams in the last 10 years between VT, Miami, BC, Pitt, TCU, there’s a lot of top 20 football teams that had left and are playing in other conferences."
If you were ever looking for college football realignment to be explained in one, neat little paragraph, that’s it right there.
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