A messy period in the history of West Virginia University athletics has come to an end.
It’s now on to the Big 12 — full speed ahead.
On Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, word was received that WVU would be leaving the Big East to join the Big 12 Conference. All along, university officials stressed the Mountaineers would be in their new conference for the 2012-13 season, but the Big East was insisting on a 27-month waiting period as provided for in league bylaws.
There was simply not time for the case to wind its way through the court system.
Tuesday morning, it was confirmed that WVU had reached a settlement with the Big East in the pending civil actions in West Virginia and Rhode Island. WVU will officially begin its full membership in the Big 12 Conference on July 1.
“This closes a chapter and opens a new one filled with exciting possibilities for WVU’s future,” athletic director Oliver Luck said. “I’ve heard from Mountaineer fans across the country who have made it very clear that they are proud and honored to be heading into the Big 12.”
When Luck was asked to return to WVU by President Dr. James P. Clements in 2010, it was no secret that conference realignment was going to be a major and thorny issue.
“When he asked me if I’d be interested in the job, I was interested really for one major reason, which is I believed that this college realignment was going to be hairy, difficult, problematic, not easy necessarily to manage through,” said Luck, who wrapped up his career as a WVU quarterback in the 1981 Peach Bowl win over Florida.
WVU was forced to act more quickly than Luck imagined when, early last fall, Pitt and Syracuse announced they were leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference. University officials then realized that a new conference home would be vital to giving the Mountaineers their best shot to remain a major national contender. Virginia Tech and Miami had moved from the Big East to the ACC in 2004, and Boston College followed a year later.
A move to the ACC or Southeastern Conference may have made much more sense for WVU geographically, but those invitations weren’t coming.
“I, like hundreds and maybe thousands of other former Mountaineer athletes, would have felt terrible if we found ourselves on the outside looking in,” Luck said.
The move to the Big 12 has a heavy monetary price. The Big East reportedly will be paid approximately $20 million by WVU and the Big 12 for the contested exit.
Luck said the agreement prohibits discussion of the details, but stressed that no state or taxpayer funds, tuition or academic-support money will be used to pay the settlement. Any settlement funding transferred, according to Luck, will come from private sources and independently generated athletic revenues.
With the move to the Big 12, though, the revenue flow to WVU will increase significantly. WVU enters at a graduated revenue rate — collecting 50 percent the first year, 67 percent the second year, 87 percent the third year and 100 percent from then on. Even at 50 percent. the Mountaineers figure to match what they would get from the Big East.
“All I can tell you is the Big 12 revenue sharing is between $18 and $19 million, well over $10 million more than what the Big East is paying out,” Luck said. “The point here is that it’s a healthy TV payout. It is important we maintain our self-sufficient status.”
WVU will be, by far, the Big 12’s easternmost member, joining Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, TCU and Iowa State. Ames, Iowa, is the closest Big 12 campus to Morgantown, at 870 miles away.
The move has some costs. The football Backyard Brawl with Pitt is off, at least for now. Travel is going to be more difficult for WVU and its fans.
At the same time, the new relationships offer excitement in both athletics and academics. Consider, for example, research possibilities with the Big 12 schools in energy-producing states such as Texas and Oklahoma.
“We are in great company in the Big 12, joining a group of world-class research universities — many of them large, public land-grant flagship institutions like WVU,” Clements said. “These schools have quality academics, research, athletic programs, winning traditions and loyal, passionate fans.”
We’re confident that in the turbulent world of conference realignment, WVU has a long-term home.
“Our partnership with the Big 12 is an investment in WVU's future,” Clements said. “We’re looking forward to the tremendous opportunities it presents — all across our university.”