It hasn’t been all that long ago.
July 27, to be exact.
That’s when I spoke to some in the hierarchy of WVU about Oklahoma and Texas leaving the Big 12.
We’ll do everything possible to position WVU in the best light, they said. There are many variables, was the response, including input and negotiations with networks, conference executives, university presidents, etc. Mostly, they said, this will be a marathon and not a sprint.
And now we’re seeing the Mountaineer athletic program is indeed in a long play – which, for now anyway, remains the Big 12.
Neither the Atlantic Coast Conference nor Southeastern Conference rode to Morgantown to save the day. So, to the dismay of many Mountaineer fans, WVU seems destined to play in a reconfigured Big 12 that will include Cincinnati, Central Florida, BYU and Houston.
And now my advice for WVU fans? Sit back, let it settle within you, reframe your thinking and hope.
No, don’t hope for the ACC to come calling. Not at this point. Maybe not ever. Set that thought aside.
Instead, hope for the growth of the new Big 12. Hope for WVU’s program to flourish, as it once did within the Big East to set up an invitation to the Big 12.
See, the Big 12 without UT and OU will be sort of like Mountaineer football recruiting through the years. WVU coaches have mostly taken kids that can blossom because bigger programs took the ready-made players.
West Virginia fans have always had faith there. And that’s where the faith is going to have to lay here.
No schools are going to replace filthy-rich Texas or six-time defending champ Oklahoma, the only league school to make the four-team College Football Playoff. It’s like when the crown jewel Miami left the Big East.
So Big 12 officials are doing what WVU coaches have done through the years: project. To start with, they are grabbing a current Top 10 team in No. 7 Cincinnati with a refurbished stadium. They are taking a school in UCF with more than 70,000 students and the Orlando TV market. In what I consider the best grab, they are taking BYU, an independent with a nationwide fan base. And then they are taking Houston, which has a stadium that provides a view of the nation’s fourth-largest city.
I found it interesting that ESPN’s Bill Connelly, a “professional nerd,” according to his Twitter handle, wrote that according to his numbers the reconfigured Big 12 would “be the worst so-called Power 5 [conference], but not by a ton.”
His five-year SP+ averages (a predictive and forward-facing measure) show a clear line of demarcation between the Big 12 and the AAC.
Adam Rittenberg, also of ESPN, claimed the big issue with staying within shouting distance of, say, the Pac-12 will be having a consistent national power.
I guess he’s right, whether that’s real or perceived. Oklahoma has been a real national power (until the playoff semifinals, that is), while Texas of late has been perceived. And bash both all you want, but they command (many times unwarranted) respect and eyeballs watching.
So, can any of the reconfigured Big 12 teams become consistent powerhouses?
I’m not sure. None have gonzo stadiums like UT’s DKR-Texas Memorial (100,119 capacity) or OU’s Gaylor Family (86,112). Those next in line (Iowa State, Texas Tech and WVU) are all around 60,000, although smaller stadiums at TCU and Baylor are sweet.
Regarding local population, Texas Tech’s Lubbock area has 249,042 residents, while Baylor’s Waco area has around 132,000.
Houston has a population of 2.31 million yet a stadium capacity of 40,000. Cincinnati has 1.75 million people and, likewise, a stadium of 40,000. BYU’s Provo area has a population of 116,403, but the school also has a national Mormon following. LaVell Edwards Stadium there holds 63,725. The Orlando population is a little over 2 million and UCF’s Bounce House holds 45,301 fans.
Most reading this, of course, know WVU’s situation. It draws from a passionate statewide fan base.
So maybe Houston can become a consistent national power. Maybe Cincinnati can keep building on its recent success. BYU certainly has the national backing. Maybe Texas Tech or Baylor can rachet up. Of course, back in the not-so-distant past, WVU was a national player.
Maybe a consistent national power is needed; maybe it’s not.
Whatever the case, fans of WVU – and the other Big 12 teams ditched by UT and OU – may as well stop yelling and realize their lot.
Their schools are in a conference that must grow. There’s some potential.
They just have to realize that potential.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.