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The Big XII, WVU Marriage Already Providing Some Expansion Lessons

wedding-cakeWhat we already know:  The college sports landscape has been shifting and quaking for three years and there’s little reason to believe things will solidify in the future.

What we already know:  Schools and conferences are marrying for the money.  Cash rules the day and travel and rivalries mean little.

What we already know:  Athletics are taking a back seat to cable households.  Wins and losses have been trumped by television reach.

What we don’t know:  How the many moves made in recent months will play out over the next five, 10 or 20 years.

While final results are far from in, the recent marriage of West Virginia to the Big XII can already be viewed as a canary in the coal mine, appropriately enough.  It’s a case study for the potential buyer’s remorse that may set in for several leagues and several schools in the future.

 

In the fall of 2011, West Virginia University let the ACC and the SEC know of its interest in league-hopping.  The Big East was collapsing — think of just how much that conference has changed in 18 months — and the Mountaineers didn’t want to get caught without a chair when the music stopped.

The ACC had already added Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the Big East.  That league passed on the Mountaineers.

The SEC had already invited Texas A&M and was already playing footsie with Missouri.  WVU tried flirt its way into the mix, but its advances were met with a “thanks, but no thanks.”

At that point, West Virginia began chatting with the Big XII, a league that was then down to nine schools.  TCU had already been picked to replace the departing Aggies.  The Mountaineers appeared to be the top choice to replace the Tigers.

But just when it looked like the Mountaineers were a lock for the Big XII, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and University of Oklahoma president David Boren tried to sneak Louisville through the door ahead of West Virginia.  They were unsuccessful in their efforts.  Ultimately, WVU joined the Big XII and Louisville wound up cutting a deal to replace Maryland in the ACC when the Terrapins leave for the Big Ten.

Follow all that?

Well just one season into the WVU/Big XII partnership, some are already saying the league missed the boat by not going ahead and adding the Cardinals, too.  Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman wrote the following over the weekend:

 

“Louisville was a no-risk addition. Adding Louisville didn’t mean the Big 12 had to commit to a 12-school format, but it would have positioned the conference to more easily expand, if that became the goal. Maybe best of all, Louisville would have been a morale boost to a beleaguered conference.

Yes, each Big 12 school would have taken a slightly lower television payout. Whatever value the ‘Ville added would have been a little low to offset the extra mouth to feed. But think of the pragmatic benefits Louisville would have provided.

Especially this time of year. Another heavyweight in March Madness. Kansas’ shoulders are getting tired, carrying the rest of the conference the way the Jayhawks have in recent years.”

 

Make no mistake, Louisville has become a big-time all-around program.  Its football and men’s basketball coaches are among the highest-paid in the nation.  Its athletic revenue ranks in the nation’s top 20.  In fact, the case can be made that Louisville might have been a better overall fit than West Virginia if the Big XII had truly capped its membership at 10.  It’s not a long walk to get from “should have invited them too” to “should have invited them instead.”

Certainly, Louisville would have been closer to the existing Big XII footprint than West Virginia.  And travel is an issue that WVU officials were already bringing up less than a year after joining the league.  According to The Times West Virginian in late-February:

 

“’We have asked that when reasonable they give us a two-game stay over on the road,’” (WVU athletic director Oliver) Luck revealed.

Twice this past season WVU was scheduled to go out on the road, play a Saturday game, fly home on Sunday, practice Monday and fly out again on Tuesday for a Wednesday game.

League rules do not allow them to stay on the road during that time, so they use up most of two days traveling.

Rather than doing that, they would prefer to play a Saturday-Big Monday on the road with a Sunday stay over, which would cut back on taking the long trip to and from Morgantown.”

 

West Virginia officials knew that travel would be a concern in their new home.  But faced with the prospect of finding themselves homeless, Luck and company eagerly accepted the Big XII’s invitation despite the long trips to spots like Manhattan, Kansas and Lubbock, Texas.  How could they not?

But how long will it take for West Virginia to tire of the travel issues and look once more for a new conference home?  How many travel concessions will the Big XII make for WVU before other member schools start suggesting — for example — that any school traveling more than X miles be allowed to spend an extra night on the road?

 

Schools are being selected for the number of television households they can provide a league, rather than for their “fit” or their athletics.  No offense to any of the following schools, but would the Big Ten have offered Maryland and Rutgers spots at its table if not for those schools’ locations?  Closer to home, would the SEC have invited Missouri to join if the Show-Me State didn’t provide six million new cable households for the soon-to-be-announced SEC Network?

The Big XII — which has no league-wide television channel — didn’t have to worry about cable households as much as it did television market size and brand awareness.  The Big XII was looking to keep its network partners happy and that’s done by giving networks games between “name” teams that hold appeal in major markets.  Pittsburgh — an hour from Morgantown, West Virginia — is television market #23.  Louisville is market #48.  And despite Louisville’s strides in recent years, WVU still has greater name recognition, especially in football.

But while leagues and schools are focused on the bottom line, travel, on-field success, and culture are being ignored.  And whether the most recent marriages can overcome those issues remains to be seen.

So keep an eye on WVU and the Big XII.  They are the perfect example of a major conference and a major school pairing up for what are purely business reasons.  The success of their marriage could provide clues as to how other dowry-based decisions will hold up long-term.

The fact that there’s already talk of what the Big XII should have done and how far WVU has to travel probably isn’t a real good sign.

 


10 comments
BillRauhuff
BillRauhuff

I hate to say this being a SEC guy but West Virginia would have made more sense than Missoui because they would leave if the BIG 10 came calling. The BIG 10 was foolish to take Maryland and Rutgers. I believe the pendulum will swing the other way in a few years with conferences going back to 10 teams. I kind of hope they do. SEC was just as good without South Carolina and Arkansas prior to 1992. West Virginia to BIG 12 was not a great move long term. As with Rutgers in the BIG 10. It is a long way from New Jersey to Nebraska and Iowa. College football will be in serious trouble in 10 years. It is already overexposed with about any game you want to watch on television and with the just announced 4-5 new bowl games. We are at 40 bowl games counting the NC game. It is nuts.  There are only around 120 teams so now what go to 60 bowl games so everybody goes bowling. Overexposure will kill anything. Most of the blame goes to the networks especially ESPN because they need programming with 3-5 channels. Does anybody see a pattern here. OVEREXPOSURE

DavidJenkins1
DavidJenkins1

You people sound like idiots, Big XII after 2014 will be ranking in $30-$35 million per team.  WVU will be seeing that type of money in 4-5 years, if you add teams that don't bring value to the league (Louisville) then that money per team gets diluted.  In the SEC while you might make a big TV contract deal, you have 14 teams in a lot of small market areas.  Big XII is thinking $$$$$

kelticreid
kelticreid

"But how long will it take for West Virginia to tire of the travel issues and look once more for a new conference home? "

Well, that's a good question but first WVU would have to -

A) Find a major conference that actually wants them.

B) Be okay with giving up all their television rights to the Big 12 for the length of the current contract that they signed away when joining the conference.

XEN610
XEN610

When all of this went down last year-I stated that the Big xii should have added Cincy & Lville with West Virginia.  But that did not happen and now WVU will start wondering about the benefit of their decision.  Wonder when the conference realignment goes the other way to schools jumping to old or brand new for the football money.  Currently seeing it with basketball.

alamoaggie08
alamoaggie08

...and to think some people criticized A&M for going to the SEC because it's FARTHEST division opponets (Alabama and Auburn) are around 700 mi away.  Heck, West Virginia's CLOSEST conference opponent is Iowa State, and Ames, IA is almost 900 mi away with the quickest route being around the mountains and along the Michigan border!

For comparison (aside from Texas and Baylor, who are about 90 mi away) A&M's closest opponent was OU at about 350 mi.  Now, LSU is the closest at about the same distance, and Arkansas, MSU and Ole Miss are all less than or not much more than 100 mi further than Lubbock, TX.

Suffice it to say, those who thought A&M was taking a leap by traveling to neighboring states not called Oklahoma probably have their foot in their mouths now and clealy aren't aware of how large this state really is.  We're Texans.  We're used to driving long distances.

local37220
local37220

The SEC could do worse that adding WVU down the road as a #17 or #18 after getting into NC and VA.  Does someone know if adding WVU also adds the Pittsburgh TV market?  If this is about markets and WVU/Pitt are a wash in that department, then WVU fits every other criteria of an SEC fit (culture, flagship, proximity) except being an AAU member.

KyleMackey
KyleMackey

@XEN610 Big 12 will have to get to at least 12 for a Conference Championship game, new playoff rules. They should added WVU, Cincy and Ville at the same time.

Now, I would bring in Cincy and Hosuton.

j_scott_o
j_scott_o

@XEN610 When there were talks about my Aggies hopping to the SEC a couple years ago, I told my friends here in Louisville that they should be trying to get into the Big12.  When McConnell was pushing to "sneak" them in, I was hoping they'd get in.  Not that I like either the Big12 or Louisville, but, I do like my friends and college sports.  I didn't think there would be any way the SEC would take them with Kentucky already a member.  And, I believed (and still do) the Big12 would  be a better fit than the ACC.

Mbm
Mbm

@local37220 Every WVU fan will claim that the Mountaineers add the Pittsburgh TV market. What a joke! They have a small % that garners some interest. I actually believe that interest dwindled since they went BIG 12. That interest is FAR less than Pitt, Penn State and even Notre Dame ( Irish Catholic thing). That's reality.

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