The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

June 13, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Move to Big 12 better than what could have been

MORGANTOWN — What if …

That’s the thought that came to mind when Oliver Luck revealed to Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com this week that he came up with a plan to merge the leftovers of the Big 12 and Big East after Syracuse and Pitt had decided to jump to the ACC and had Texas and Oklahoma gone off and joined the Pac-12, as they threatened to do.

What if that plan had come to fruition?

Would West Virginia have been better off athletically in the new league that had been discussed?

First, what was it that Luck told McMurphy?

This was what he wrote:

“My favorite story that hasn’t been written,” Luck said. “After Syracuse and Pittsburgh (announced they were leaving for the ACC), that was in the same time frame that Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were playing footsie with (Pac-12 commissioner) Larry (Scott) and the Big East was a mess.”

So Luck began cold-calling athletic directors at Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State with a proposal.

“I didn’t know those guys from Adam,” Luck said. “I knew the schools. I told them, ‘Your conference may fall apart. You guys look like you might get left behind. Why don’t we take all of you and TCU, which was kind of homeless.”

Luck’s plan, which also had the support of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, was also to add UCF for a 12-team Big East divided into two divisions: West: Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, TCU and Louisville; East: UConn, Cincinnati, Rutgers, West Virginia, South Florida and UCF.

“I remember thinking: ‘That’s not a bad conference,’” Luck said. “And we would have kept the affiliation with the (Big East) basketball schools, because they loved the addition of Kansas. They (the Big 12 schools) also liked it. They were nervous as hell, too. We had a series of phone calls. That was sort of our best option.”

Let us understand this was an informal proposal from Luck, not one endorsed yet beyond WVU and Louisville and the only way it could work would be if the Big 12 teams were left in a desperate situation with Texas and Oklahoma gone … something that didn’t happen.

But we can think what it might be like now, can’t we?

With two divisions it certainly would have been more practical for WVU in football and in basketball, keeping rivalries alive that now have died, especially with UConn, Cincinnati and Louisville.

And it would have been a monster basketball conference with Kansas, Louisville, Cincinnati, national champion UConn, Kansas State, Baylor, Iowa State and West Virginia.

Of course, in today’s collegiate world none of that really matters to anyone, as evidenced by the reshaping of the landscape of college football that has done away with WVU-Pitt, WVU-Virginia Tech, Texas-Texas A&M and Missouri-Kansas rivalries.

Matters have moved, instead, toward the power conferences breaking away and controlling their own fate, which means that you have to be a member of a power conference to have real significance in the college sports universe … meaning TV.

Would this new conference have had enough influence to be a power conference and be included in the plan to put together a football championship playoff?

It’s hard to imagine that it would for college football across the country is and always has been Texas and Oklahoma and Notre Dame and Alabama and Auburn and USC and Oregon and Florida and Florida State and …

You get the idea.

West Virginia ranks a notch below that, as good as they have been on occasion. Louisville is no different, nor is Baylor nor Kansas State and Cincinnati.

As Luck said, “That’s not a bad conference.”

But it also isn’t a power conference as they have come to be defined, so, in the end, with WVU wanting to be a major player in college athletics it was a good thing that the Big 12 was able to work out its situation with Oklahoma and Texas and that it opted to select WVU over Louisville.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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