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June 14, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN - WVU must act fast in planning athletic future

MORGANTOWN — They are the new kids on the block, West Virginia University President Jim Clements and his just christened athletic director, Oliver Luck, and, as such, the entire athletic world is watching them to see how they act as the very structure of their sport and their school’s place in it is now uncertain.

As newbies, you would expect that they would sit quietly in the background and watch and listen and learn, but there may not be time to do this, for things figure to move and move rapidly.

They must act, act quickly and brazenly, and for once not as a member of a conference that appears to be dying but act in their own best interests.

With that in minds, let us offer a proposal, a proposal that begins with WVU, through Clements and Luck, spearheading a move to remove the football playing teams from the Big East and to form a new, 12-team power conference of their own.

This is especially true if the Big 12 comes apart, as expected.

Nebraska has already moved to the Big 10, Colorado to the Pac-10, and the word is if that Texas and Oklahoma, the two football anchors of the Big 12, also move that conference is doomed.

That means other conferences will be clamoring for their best teams, while the Big East remains dominated by a basketball mad leadership in a football mad world.

Here is the proposal:

The Big East football-playing schools move rapidly and decisively toward forming a new conference.

From the Big East it would include West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Rutgers, Connecticut, South Florida, Louisville and Cincinnati, the eight football playing teams.

They would be joined from the Big 12 by Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri.

That leaves one more team, which ideally would be Notre Dame, who is finding itself more and more isolated and could probably get its best conference deal out of this new conference, that certainly would make major concessions to the Fighting Irish to get them to join.

That, of course, is a long shot for Notre Dame has clearly established that it wants to remain independent, but the offer to be the big dog on the block rather than battling the likes of Michigan and Ohio State for conference power could perhaps persuade them.

There is no way, however, that they should be allowed to join without being a full-fledged football member, too.

If the Notre Dame situation can be worked out the other team could come from Central Florida to strengthen the Florida presence and bring in Orlando as a TV market, or East Carolina to bolster the football conference, Baylor

from the Big 12 or even Villanova, if it would agree to move into a major football role, bringing with it the basketball program and the city of Philadelphia for TV purposes.

Think of WVU first off being away from the influence wielded in the Big East by the snobbish Catholic schools like Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s and Seton Hall, schools that have no football interest.

This new conference would have a lot going for it, beginning with a championship game that could provide both income and interest.

Rather than ending long-standing rivalries or turning them into non-conference games that would always be in jeopardy, the great rivalries that have been established over the last century would remain intact.

WVU and Pitt would still play a meaningful Big East Brawl. Missouri and Kansas would remain head-to-head, the same as Kansas and Kansas State would do conference battle years. Toss in UConn and Syracuse, Louisville vs. Cincinnati and you still have the tradition that is necessary for a football program in its relationship with its alumni.

The beauty of this proposal, however, is that it does not in any way subtract from the basketball that was being played in the Big East.

Consider that you have Syracuse (1), Connecticut (2), Cincinnati (2), Louisville (2) and Kansas (3), all schools that have basketball national championships to their credit. WVU, of course, was a Final Four team a year ago.

The basketball conference, in fact, would remain as powerful as the one that is in the Big East, putting Bob Huggins in with Rick Pitino, Bill Self, Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim and having the added attraction of having Huggins going against his two former employers — K-State and Cincinnati.

The situation is ripe for a major reshuffling of all the conferences. In fact, it already is underway and West Virginia can neither allow itself to be left behind and be stuck in what appears to be a secondary conference or allow itself to become a secondary member of a major conference where other schools wield all the power.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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