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January 12, 2014

FURFARI COLUMN: Should WVU really be in the Big 12?

MORGANTOWN — I still have a firm feeling that West Virginia University made a great mistake in joining the Big 12 Conference for athletic competition in 2012.

If you’re interested in my reasoning and thinking, please read on. If not, don’t waste your time.

If the decision were mine, I would have retained WVU to as close to an eastern type of sports conference as possible. That is what it had been for 120 years athletically.

Yes, maybe the Big East was falling apart, football-wise, and eventually West Virginia would have to leave. The exit fee cost this university $20 million. That was paid.

Since the Big 12 needed a 10th member by July 1, 2012, the Mountaineers were forced to join hastily. That reportedly was necessary for greater revenue from the league’s TV package.

The powers-that-be (WVU Board of Governors, President Jim Clements — now at Clemson, athletic director Oliver Luck, et al) deprived those sports fans among the 32,000 students from following the WVU teams on the road for games.

The cost for transportation had become much more expensive than it had been when the schedules included such formidable opponents as Pitt, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Rutgers, Syracuse, Virginia and many other schools in the east and south.

WVU also is paying a lot more money for its football, men’s and women’s basketball and baseball trips for road games in “Cowboy Country.”

Isn’t that a necessity for requiring more of student-athletes’ time away from classrooms because of the longer trips?

I happen to know, as a young reporter in the mid-1950s, that WVU tried hard to be admitted as the eighth member of the newly formed Atlantic Coast Conference when it was founded as an off-shoot from the Southern Conference.

But WVU had the support of just Maryland and South Carolina. Although it’s much easier to get here now, because of poor highways and lack of jet plane service, it was much harder then.

So what would I have done if and when WVU had to leave the Big East? Join a spot in a league a heap closer to the East!

Become a big frog in a small pond while continuing to search for a major conference closer to the East that might be interested in inviting WVU.

I recall that in 1982, the late Fred Schaus, then WVU athletic director, told me he envisioned the day would come when there would be “six or eight mega athletic conferences” with at least 16 schools in each.

The last time that I checked, there was not a major conference with 16 members. So the opportunity still exists.

However, were the ACC, SEC or another league with mega potential to invite WVU today, could it afford financially to accept?

The Big 12 Conference exit fee reportedly is a cool $50 million.

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