The Times West Virginian

May 15, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN- Can money buy WVU happiness as Big 12 member?

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — =Let me put the dummies to rest right away.

Financially, moving to the Big 12 was the right move for West Virginia University.

Artistically, maybe or maybe not will the move work out. The first year was something of a disaster, if you consider the football team was simply a game better than .500 and was slaughtered by Syracuse, of all teams, in a minor bowl game, and the men’s basketball team failed to reach .500 or post-season play.

Add to that there is no men’s soccer league in the Big 12, and the wrestling team faces competition it never has been able to match. The women’s basketball team was no better than .500 in league play, leading only in injuries, and other than the yearly NCAA championship in rifle, there weren’t many bragging rights.

With the lack of common geography, history and interests, the fit may not work out, but financially it will be fine … if money can buy happiness.

I know. Last year WVU lost $12 million, and there wasn’t much happiness in the reaction from many in the public.

It wasn’t as though they weren’t warned.

“There are a lot of changes going on,” athletic director Oliver Luck said at the time the deal was being negotiated. “We have buyouts and other Big 12 costs. We’re working extraordinarily hard to figure how to do it in a fiscally responsible manner.

“We’ve increased (football) ticket prices and (Mountaineer Athletic Club) donations. We’re working on concessions and sponsorships. It is challenging. But we looked at the bigger picture and I think any board of trustees, etc., would have made the same decisions.”

You will recall that a year ago WVU paid $20 million to the Big East as an escape ransom and put $500,000 into getting out of playing Florida State.

They even somehow managed to lose nearly a quarter of a million dollars going to the Orange Bowl, but that, at least, is money well-spent.

Yes, a $12 million loss throbs, but certainly it is understandable when you consider the money that was dished out on a one-time basis.

This year Luck, the driving force behind the jump away from the dying Big East, predicts there will be another $50,000 shortfall, which is really just pocket change in this world in which we live.

Again, before writing off the decision to make the jump as a financial disaster, consider the first season in the Big 12 brought the Mountaineers only half the payoff … which jumps to more than $20 million.

“We’ll be a 50 percent member (financially) this year,” Luck told a WVU Faculty Senate meeting on Monday. “It will be 67 percent, then 85 and then 100. When you get to 85 and 100, that’s substantial. We’re talking about a payout of $20 million a year compared to (what the Big East paid) $7-8 million.”

The new Big East, going under the name of the American Athletic Conference, is paying out an estimated $2 million a year per team … which effectively should keep it from becoming an athletic power in the major sports.

Better days lie ahead for the bank account as WVU’s participation in revenue payoff grows on a sliding scale until it reaches 100 percent and that $12 million deficit turns into an $8 million annual profit … and that’s not taking into account a few more million out of Tier 3 rights being sold or for the day when the markets for football and basketball coaches come back to reality.

What you must understand is that this is an adjustment period for WVU in the Big 12.

Not a honeymoon period, mind you.

It is too stormy to be a honeymoon, but it is a time when the school and its athletic teams and coaches must accept the reality of the moment, that belts must be tightened some and expectations grown into.

In the Big East, WVU was a power.

In the Big 12, it’s little more than a new kid on the block and its history and traditions are far more similar to Syracuse and its neighbors than it is to Oklahoma or Texas, the driving forces and richest schools who set the Big 12 standards.

Email Bob Hertzel at or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.