Well, it finally appears that after a couple of false starts, some obnoxious political wrangling, and a whole lot of hand wringing around the Mountain State the West Virginia Mountaineers are heading to the Big 12. What does that mean for WVU?
Some semblance of stability. The Big 12 had some egg on its face throughout this whole realignment mess, but not nearly in the copious amounts that have besmirched the Big East. While the Big 12 played hardball with Texas and Oklahoma to keep them from bolting westward, the Big East saw its teams flee like rats from a burning ship. Obviously, conference re-alignment is a mess right now, so it’s tough to predict what will happen in 10 minutes, let alone 10 years. For the time being it appears the Mountaineers have left a conference which was imploding in favor of one which will be around for awhile. All while retaining automatic qualifying status for the BCS! That sound you hear is a sigh of relief from Mountaineer fans everywhere who dreaded that when the conference carousel came to an end, WVU would find itself on the outside looking in.
A tougher path to the BCS … but an easier path to the BCS title game. While the Big East had plenty of detractors, the ability to get its championship team into BCS bowl games wasn’t one of them. In fact, the level of competition in the Big East was so low that WVU fired Bill Stewart after he failed to win the league in three tries, despite having the best winning percentage in school history. Now the path to the BCS is significantly tougher and the Mountaineers will have to go through Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State annually in order to make a BCS bowl game. That said, while in the Big East, WVU needed to win the conference and then hope a myriad of other things occurred to catapult the Mountaineers into the BCS title game. Now, a Big 12 championship will do the trick. In many ways, the hunt for WVU’s first national title just got a lot simpler: win the conference, get a shot at the ring. The only problem is, the teams that WVU needs to go through just got a lot more formidable.
Better bowl games if WVU doesn’t win the Big 12. The problem with the Big East was that if WVU didn’t win the conference, they were immediately sent to bowl purgatory. Now, a second place Big 12 finish still probably gets the Mountaineers into a BCS bowl or, at the very least, the Cotton Bowl. Of course, the Big 12 is the Cowboy Conference, so Mountaineer fans are almost guaranteed a trip to a random bowl played in Texas if they finish lower than second or third in the Big 12.
A step down in basketball. If Big East football competition was too weak to do any good, Big East basketball competition was the exact opposite. That league so good, if WVU finished in the top half they were almost guaranteed an NCAA tournament bid and decent seed too. The Big 12 is a decent basketball conference led by Kansas, Baylor and Kansas State and it will be fun to see some new teams coming into the Coliseum. The middle of the Big 12 pack just can’t compete with the Big East, but it still will be a fun league to compete in. The Mountaineers already have a couple of candidates for natural rivals in Kansas State and Texas. Bob Huggins had a one year stop-over in Manhattan, Kansas on his way to WVU and one can be sure that Wildcat fans haven’t forgotten that. Mountaineer fans will never forget Kenton Paulino’s dagger that kept the ‘Eers from the Elite Eight in 2006 in Kevin Pittsnogle’s final game. Many in Morgantown are eager with a re-match with the Longhorns. Personally, I look forward to a trip to Phog Allen Fieldhouse to see WVU square off with one of college basketball’s legendary squads. It’s going to be a heck of a drive, though.
A real problem for the non-revenue sports. Do you run track for WVU? Play golf? Do you love buses? I hope so, because you’ll be on one for a week on your way to away games in Ames, Lubbock and Norman. Thank goodness the NCAA’s hypocrisy about the “student athlete” only extends to the revenue sports. We can’t have a BCS playoff, because the football players would play three extra games but if you are an athlete in a non-revenue sport at WVU, your life just got a lot more complicated.