MORGANTOWN — You might say Bob Bowlsby was feeling a little bit giddy, which was why when he was on a media call with BYU, which is one of four schools he had recruited to join — no, make that save — what has been perceived to be a crumbling Big 12 Conference after the unexpected back door exits by both Oklahoma and Texas.
Certainly, the aside he offered in the midst of his interview was aimed far more at those two schools than the eyes and ears that were on the Zoom call.
“Speaking purely on a personal level, I enjoy [working] with people that I trust, that I like and that I know share the values that I have for intercollegiate athletics,” Bowlsby said.
And walking on your conference mates to join the SEC with no notice apparently isn’t ever going to be values they will share with the Big 12 commissioner.
As the remaining eight Big 12 teams were scrambling for new homes — being either in the ACC, which would have been perfect for West Virginia but who apparently would rather pretend it is a big-time football factor than dine at the same table with the Mountaineers; the Big 10 and the Pac-12 — he was scrambling to save his conference and with it his job.
If nothing else, Bowlsby was yielding a swift sword as he cut three teams — Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida — away the American Athletic Conference and lured independent Brigham Young University to join the Big 12.
If was a clean sweep of the top candidates on anyone’s list to expand the Big 12 and angered the AAC commissioner, Mike Aresco who received a “cease-and-desist letter” from Bowlsby after he tried to lure away some of the left-over Big 12 teams when Oklahoma and Texas left
“It’s ironic that the Big 12 appears to have done what they accused [the SEC] of doing,” he said as he announced that his conference was now looking for replacements and to expand to become a “Power 6” conference.
Bowlsby’s reshaping of the Big 12 changes the footprint of the conference, gives a more national look stretching from Central Florida in the southeast to BYU in the west, along with its midwestern connection that including now not only Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State but Cincinnati, a playmate for WVU to hold rivalry games once reserved for Pitt, Penn State, Maryland and Virginia Tech.
What’s more, while the league lost a pair of Top 25 basketball programs in Texas and Oklahoma, it remains a strong college basketball presence including recent NCAA finalist Texas Tech, WVU, perennial power Kansas and Kansas State along with Cincinnati’s long and significant basketball presence that includes Huggins, Oscar Robertson and a pair of national titles; BYU, a team that won 20 or more games in 15 of the last 16 seasons, and Houston, always a power and famous for its Phi Slamma Jama teams.
“A bigger, stronger, more national Big 12 is a great thing for college athletics,” said Lawrence Schovanec, president of Texas Tech and the lead administrator on the expansion of the conference. “Certainly, Brigham Young University brings a broad national interest to the Big 12.”
Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy, who was gut punched by Oklahoma’s leaving the conference without bringing Oklahoma State along as was mandated in the Oklahoma legislature, believes the conference worked things out well.
“The Big 12 conference has been among the best football leagues in the country for the past 25 years,” Gundy said. “The addition of these four programs will allow us to introduce our brand of football to fans in new locations. I welcome the new conference members and look forward to competing against them while maintaining competition with our long-standing league members. We have the best of both worlds.”
WVU is most familiar with Cincinnati in football, winning 16 of the 19 games they have played and will soon see Cincinnati’s facilities undergo a similar renovation the way the WVU did with the move to a Power 5 conference. WVU owns a 35-32 victory in its only non-conference, regular season game at Fed-Ex Field in Washington, D.C.
The Mountaineers have never met Houston on the football field but they do know something about the coach there, a guy named Dana Holgorsen, and they have swept a home-and-home series with UCF in 2003 and 2004.
Bowlsby announced that BYU will join the conference for the 2023-24 season while the other three will join before July 1, 2024.
The commissioner also did not rule out another expansion. With 12 teams, to match its name, it’s expected that it will break into six-team divisions with WVU in the East with Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Central Florida and Cincinnati.
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