Nothing against the Big XII, but those ACC schools long-rumored to be considering a jump to the league made the right decision in staying put instead. Oh, there might’ve been more potential for riches climbing on board Bob Bowlsby’s ship, but the likelihood of an eventual “abandon ship” call was far greater.
Last week, Big XII leaders took up the issue of West Virginia’s travel complaints regarding its new home. On the positive side, the Big XII pledged to help WVU in any way possible. That includes nixing a rule that prevented the Mountaineers from staying on the road last year when faced with back-to-back long road trips. The obvious problem — WVU has nothing but long travel trips in its new Midwestern home. The school’s nearest Big XII rival is nearly 900 miles away.
The road trips were long in football, but basketball is where West Virginia really felt the pinch. On the men’s side, Bob Huggins’ squad several times had to play a Saturday game on the road, fly back to campus on Sunday, practice and go to class on Monday, and then fly back out on Tuesday for a Wednesday game. Now the league’s athletic directors appear open to allowing WVU to fly from one road game directly to another. Or to having the Mountaineers play their road games on Saturday-Monday or Saturday-Tuesday turnarounds. That’s all well and good, but what of all the talk of “student-athletes” not missing class time?
Look across the remaining big five conferences — Big XII, Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12, SEC — and you’ll find that West Virginia is basically the only true fly-over member of a conference. Leagues that have tried to create large collections of schools from all across the nation have been felled by the distances between the schools, not aided by the total number of television markets covered. Ask folks in the old Big East.
The ACC has had Boston College as a distant relative since 2005, but that league has just added Pittsburgh and Syracuse to its roster of teams. Even stretched from Massachusetts to Florida with a Western protrusion into Kentucky (with soon to join Louisville), the league’s states are still side by side by side by side. With Maryland’s departure to the Big Ten, the only gap in the line is the short distance between Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Moving forward, every ACC school will have a rival or two within its area. That goes for all the major conferences. Except for Big XII and its new bride, West Virginia. And as much as the Mountaineers were hoping/praying for Florida State or Clemson to join them, those schools would have just been closer distant relatives. The folks at FSU and Clemson would also now be asking for travel breaks when it comes to visiting places like Kansas State and Texas Tech.
West Virginia was in a dying Big East and was passed over by the ACC and the SEC. The school didn’t want to get caught without a chair when the music stopped so it jumped. There’s nothing wrong with that. But eventually the distance between Morgantown and its neighbors will become an issue that cannot be overcome.
Successful conferences, no matter how large they become, still provide schools with a few driving-distance rivals. The Big XII flying over states to reach so far east? That doesn’t fit the profile. There’s a reason the SEC never seriously considered adding schools that weren’t connected to the existing SEC footprint. And that reason is why the ACC schools that eyeballed the Big XII were wise to stay put.