As fans of college athletics watched the seismic shift of conference realignment last week, I couldn’t help but keep an eye on schools like Oregon State and Washington State.
Because there but for the grace of God goes WVU.
I remember the days. I remember the angst of Mountaineer fans.
And it all came rushing back the other day when I ran across an Oct. 7, 2011, Bleacher Report story.
“With news coming out yesterday that new Big East member TCU has received an invitation to the Big 12,” wrote Johnathan Cace, “West Virginia must be in panic mode. They are apparently not wanted by the SEC, they do not have the academics for an invitation to the Big 10 or ACC and now the Big 12 is saying it may stay at just 10 teams. And even if Missouri ends up leaving, sources say the next team in line is Louisville and not the Mountaineers.
“So where would West Virginia go if the Big East collapses?
“Frankly, no one knows.”
Of course, we know that WVU did move to the Big 12 rather than Louisville. Thankfully, Oliver Luck – now the Mountaineers’ NIL champion – was in place as athletic director. He went to the University of Texas School of Law and knew people. Football coach Don Nehlen pitched in. Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Jay Rockefeller battled Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell – who was lobbying for UL — behind the scenes.
Hard-core WVU fans probably recall the Big 12 announcement being put on hold – and remember that anxiety after euphoria.
Finally, on Oct. 26, 2011, yours truly first reported in the Charleston Gazette the WVU-to-Big 12 move was a “done deal” and that a joint news conference would be held.
As a sports journalist before joining Wheelhouse Creative, I covered all WVU’s moves from the time it was an independent (before the Big East and after the Southern Conference) until five years ago. (I’m celebrating my fifth year with Wheelhouse in September.)
Many might not remember, but the Mountaineers weren’t at first full members of the Big East. The football schools of that conference wanted the sport to dominate – rather than basketball – because of money and added WVU, Rutgers, Temple, Virginia Tech and Miami. At first, only the Hurricanes (viewed as the gem of the league in football) would also get to play in the prestigious basketball league.
The first Big East football season was waaaay back in 1991. And it was a very big deal for WVU’s athletic department. That’s because then-AD Ed Pastilong knew it would only be a matter of time before hoops royalty like Syracuse, Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, etc., would also be hitting the Coliseum.
When WVU and the other football schools did gain full membership, well, that was the beginning of the end of the Big East’s structure. Power moved away from the “non-football” schools to the “football” schools. The Mountaineer athletic department was on the good side of that.
Until the bombshell.
Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College were moving to the ACC.
I still remember talking to then-Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese. I remember the hurt in his voice. See, those directly involved, Pastilong, Tranghese, league media director John Paquette, etc., all worked with reporters back in those days. There was a working relationship. We weren’t told everything, but we were guided. There was trust.
So I felt for Tranghese, Paquette and the others hurt by departures – including, eventually, that of WVU – as they scrambled to reinvent the league yet again.
As I feel for Oregon State and Washington State now.
Thankfully for WVU, my alma mater, last week’s realignment eruption went in the Mountaineers’ favor.
But, heck, there was angst not too long ago when Texas and Oklahoma decided to bolt the Big 12 for the SEC. Would the Pac-12 – which ended up being cannibalized – pick apart the Big 12? Would WVU be left on the outside looking in, a la OSU and WSU now?
Finally, though, West Virginia University and its fans were able to breathe. I joked that the Gazette-Mail’s Sportsman of the Year should be Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark. The school is “safe.” Once again it’s time to enjoy that feeling.
At least, that is, until the realignment tremors start back up again.
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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.