The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

October 26, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Good and bad come with WVU move to Big 12

MORGANTOWN — There was a wise man who once said, “Be careful, you might get what you wish for.”

West Virginia has wished for a spot in the Big 12.

All appearances were late Tuesday that its wish was coming true.

If that is the way it works out, is it all it’s cracked up to be?

The answer to that is a definite maybe.

Financially, there can be no doubt that it is a windfall. The money they receive will more than double, and for that Messrs. Clements and Luck will be feted by the accountants who rule the world.

Indeed, without money you have nothing ... but then again, West Virginia already had a $70 million budget for athletics and somehow that seems to be a bit on the excessive side in this area and era when many families can’t afford health insurance.

Certainly, it lifts the football profile of the Mountaineers, for the Big East is a dying conference and the Big 12 an elite conference.

But let us ask, for a moment, if indeed West Virginia, a team that just lost to Syracuse, is ready to play in an elite football conference, a conference that is ruled by Oklahoma and Texas, a pair of oil rich states where football is king and where national championships are as plentiful as cattle.

Does West Virginia believe it can ever win a national championship by coming through the Big 12 schedule? Does it really believe it can be anything but a middle-of-the-road football team in a conference with the Longhorns and the Sooners, TCU and Kansas State and Oklahoma State?

Is it better to be a big fish in a small pond than to be a small fish in a big pond?

It’s a question worth asking, to be sure, but then again, WVU didn’t win a national title in the Big East, either.

Now, let us think for a moment of the West Virginia faithful. They have been known for their willingness to travel to away games, to show up in large numbers in foreign stadia.

Will that continue when the closest Big 12 rival — should Cincinnati and Louisville not follow WVU to the conference — is Iowa State? The driving mileage between Morgantown and Ames, Iowa, is 870 miles. The driving time is listed at 14 hours and 41 minutes.

And that is the closest rival ... and it’s Iowa State, as if anyone would be heading there for football, anyway. Or Lubbock, Texas? And will they take the drive to Baylor, from anywhere?

What’s more, think about the travel if you want to see the basketball team play. Remember how much fun it was to head to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament? Think Kansas City will have the same feel, if you get there?

Consider, too, the fact that WVU alumni are more concentrated in the East than in the West and that many of the away crowds are made up of alumni from that area, be it Charlotte or Florida or New Jersey.

There is another thing to consider, too, and that is recruiting. Many players come to West Virginia in part because their parents and relatives can see them play. Florida, for example,

has traditionally been fertile recruiting ground for the Mountaineers and they almost always played a game down there.

Then there is a concern about the non-revenue sports. Oh, no, it’s not a concern of the administration, the tipoff to that being the term non-revenue, but of the teams that have to do all that traveling ... with any number of issues.

WVU’s wrestling team, for example, has been a power in the Eastern Wrestling League. How will it fare in a conference that has perennial powers Iowa, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State?

And then there’s volleyball, which in the Big East plays on weekends but in the Big 12 plays mid-week, putting a burden on schools with all the travel involved.

Now basketball-wise, this may be a good thing. Certainly Mike Carey won’t be complaining that his women’s team doesn’t have to face UConn any longer, and Huggins is in a better spot, although his recruiting may have to change some as it might be tough to convince some of those New York kids that they want to spend their game nights in Lawrence, Kan., or Stillwater, Okla.

All of this said, the jump to the Big 12 is a move that had to be made if WVU wanted to continue as a top-level participant in college sports. The Big East seems to be a conference on an elevator going down to the mid-major level.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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