The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

September 20, 2011

Changing places nothing new for teams

MORGANTOWN — While everyone is asking, “Where do we go from here?”, which has become the most pressing question about conference realignment in college football — especially where West Virginia is concerned — it may be best to take a look back to see how we got here.

That may tell you a lot about why the Mountaineers are having a problem finding a home, even though they certainly are acknowledged universally as among the top 25 programs both in football and basketball in the country.

Fittingly enough, the SEC is the granddaddy of all conferences. It came into being as the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Born from a committee meeting chaired by Vanderbilt chemistry professor William Dudley, it brought together Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, the University of the South (Sewanee), Vanderbilt, Clemson, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Tulane and Texas.

And what was the reason it was necessary to form a conference?

They wanted to standardize player eligibility rules and set up a track meet and basketball tournament.

Football was not mentioned, but, then again, this was 1894.

A couple of years later a group of seven Midwestern universities got together at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago and founded the Western Conference, which would become the Big Ten. In a stroke of genius, they opted to drop Lake Forest College, which was to be an original member, for another school.

That school was Michigan ... “champions of the West,” as the song goes ... and now you know the rest of that story.

This conference thing was taking hold now, and by 1914 the Southwest Conference was given life, followed a year later by the Pacific Coast Conference. Strangely, they used only West Coast schools ... none of this Pac-10 or Pac-12 stuff that included schools from the deserts of Arizona, the mountains of Colorado or the plains of Oklahoma.

The Big Ten picked up its name the next year and by 1918 conferences were expanding, schools like Stanford and Washington State finding homes.

In 1921, when people were wearing raccoon coats instead of combat jerseys to football games, a flask hidden in the pocket for refreshment, alcohol being prohibited from being sold, even in what was serving for a stadium at West Virginia at the time, the original SIAA conference came apart as the Southern Conference was founded with schools like Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and the likes, including N.C. State, Virginia Tech and, of course, Washington & Lee.

Now, before you get upset, there really did have to be a reason why what would become the SEC would want Washington & Lee and may not want WVU, but that’s a different matter.

Guess what? A year later, in 1922, this same Southern Conference added Florida, LSU, Mississippi, Tulane and Vanderbilt to give it ... A 19-TEAM MEMBERSHIP.

Maybe 16 teams isn’t even enough for them now.

We’re going to jump ahead here a little bit to post-World War II, because it was then, in 1946, that the Big Ten lost a team. The University of Chicago dropped out. While that was news, it wasn’t quite the bombshell that was born in a basement on that school’s campus and was dropped on Japan to end World War II, but it made room for Michigan State to join the Big Ten, the last change that conference would make for 40 years.

Now, remember that 19-team conference down south? Well, in 1953 a group of schools broke away from it to form the ACC. Originally it was Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina and Wake Forest. Six months later Virginia moved in to give it eight teams.

It is now pushing to double its size, having gobbled up Pitt and Syracuse this week, but that is getting ahead of things.

In 1958, Oklahoma State opted to join what had been the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association as its eighth member, leading someone to realize that Big Eight was a far easier name for headline writers, leading to that change.

There are those who probably don’t understand that the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” is absolutely true. You might have noticed that involved in all of this unsettled conference business is a number of scandals involving schools such as Ohio State, North Carolina, Miami, Oregon and on and on.

In 1959, there were so many scandals out west that the Pacific Coast Conference disbanded and Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC and Washington formed the Big Five, which would become the Pac-8 five years later as Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State joined.

We’re going to speed up our tempo here for a moment, much the way Dana Holgorsen does with his offense, as in 1966 Georgia Tech and Tulane left the SEC for the Metro Conference — honest, and we’re complaining in West Virginia? — and Arizona and Arizona State made the Pac-8 the Pac-10.

In 1979, the Big East came along as a basketball conference in the East, adding Pitt and Villanova over the next three years.

Another scandal played a role in conference development, SMU getting the death penalty for having a payroll higher than the Dallas Cowboys, or so it seemed, and that would eventually cripple the Southwest Conference financially.

The 1990 season would be an important one, for Arkansas joined the Southwest Conference and Penn State became the 11th team in the Big 10, proving mathematicians everywhere that 11 could go into 10.

It also proved the actuaries wrong as Coach Joe Paterno, who was just reaching the retirement age of 65 then, remains coaching the Nittany Lions, unwilling to step aside until the Big Ten becomes the Big 16.

The year after Paterno took his team to the Big Ten, the Big East added football and three years later the Big Eight and SWC joined into the Big-12.

By this time, everything was going crazy. West Virginia, who had been in the Southern Conference and then an Independent, joined the Big East, as did Notre Dame, except as a football member because it had a special brand of its own that it could cash in on without sharing with anyone.

They haven’t really been any good since.

West Virginia was enjoying itself in the Big East, a pretty conference, right up until 2003 when Miami and Virginia Tech, two national football powers, jumped to the ACC along with Boston College, setting up a chain of dominoes that would fall all over the place.

The Big East went into scramble mode and took in everyone short of North Marion High, adding Cincinnati, Marquette, DePaul, Louisville and South Florida.

Rather than helping to stabilize things, the football situation in the country had become such a mess, the public clamoring for a national playoff, the bowls becoming more and more of a joke as their numbers surpassed 30, and television dictating every move, that pressures were forcing everything to come apart.

TCU went to the Big East, Colorado the Pac-I-can’t-remember-how-many, Boise State left the WAC for the Mountain West, Nebraska went from the Big 12 to the Big 10, which left the Big 12 with 10 members and the Big 10 with 12, but who’s counting.

And so it went, over and over, the cast of players changing almost daily until Texas A&M jumped to the SEC, and Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC with Rutgers and UConn ready to make the same leap.

Texas and Oklahoma, two of the sport’s most storied programs, met Monday about going to the Pac-12, and West Virginia ... well, it doesn’t have an idea where it is going to wind up because the leaves are still falling from the trees.

But sleep tight tonight, because no matter what happens, it’s sure to change in a day or two.

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

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