MORGANTOWN — Groucho Marx was right.
The legendary comedian with the ever-present cigar, the bushy mustache and drawn on eyebrows is credited with one of history’s great one liners. According to Hollywood columnist Erskine Johnson on October 20, 1949, in a letter of resignation from the Friars Club, Marx wrote:
“I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”
It was good for a laugh, but it isn’t the way things work in real life, as West Virginia University is again finding out.
With Texas and Oklahoma officially applying for membership in the SEC on Tuesday and with the date set for this to take effect being July 1, 2025, the day after their media deals run out with the Big 12, WVU and the other Big 12 teams are scrambling to either solidify their current conference as a power wielder in college football or for a new home in a restructured game that may not even involve the NCAA, the current ruling body.
A decade ago, with the Big East collapsing around them, the Mountaineers had to go conference hunting and at that time the best fit was with the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the ACC wanted no part of the Mountaineers, snobbishly rejecting them because they didn’t feel the fit academically was right.
That forced WVU to join a club that would have it — the Big 12 ... and right now, they have to regret having been put into that situation.
While much has changed for the better at WVU in the last decade, what hasn’t changed is its fit with the ACC, which would move it back into a league set within its region with a group of teams with whom they once had cherished, yet heated rivalries.
Of course, WVU is not the only Big 12 school sent scurrying off to find its place in big time college football. Within days of the word that Texas and Oklahoma were leaving, Kansas and Iowa State were reported to have approached the Big Ten about the possibility of that conference taking them in as expansion teams.
And there have been rumors of the remaining eight Big 12 teams joining up with the Pac-12 to form a 20-team conference that would improve no one’s place in college football and make WVU more of an outsider than it has been for its decade in the Big 12, where it has been a cultural and geographical misfit.
This, of course, will all work itself out because there is far too much money at stake for it not to, although that doesn’t mean it will work out as you or WVU wants it to work out.
Meanwhile, we wait and watch while it plays itself out.
But what of this year? And next? And next? Years where Texas and Oklahoma are still in the Big 12.
Well, I have a dream about that.
It isn’t even a dream that ever could come true but, damn, it would be fun if you could pull it off.
On Sept. 25, the Big 12 has West Virginia opening its conference schedule at Oklahoma and it has Texas Tech traveling to Texas for its conference opener.
But wouldn’t it be fun to see an email arrive at the football offices of Oklahoma and Texas that morning jointly signed by WVU and Texas Tech that reads something like this:
“Surprise! You remember how you surprised us all by announcing you were leaving the Big 12? Well, the Big 12 is leaving you. Texas Tech is currently arriving in Morgantown (or West Virginia is currently arriving in Lubbock) to play each other.
“You guys like each other so much, play each other every game this year. No one in the Big 12 is going to play either of you.
“Have a nice day.”
Like I know, this can’t happen. There’s contracts and penalties and ESPN to deal with, to say nothing of lawsuits and disappointing your own fans, who would love to come and scream at Texas or Oklahoma but payback is always so sweet and what could be sweeter than leaving Texas and Oklahoma alone with 100,000 of their fans in their stadiums on game day?
This reminds me of another Groucho Marx quote, one that fits perfectly here:
“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”
And that is what West Virginia is trying to set up for itself, to be happy today ... and every today.
True, Oklahoma and Texas were doing what would make them happy by making the move to the SEC and neither I nor Groucho Marx has a problem with that. What we have a quarrel with is the way they approached it, sneaking behind the backs of their partners to accomplish their goal while leaving them to scramble for survival.
Again, it’s as Marx once said:
“The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
And that, apparently, is the credo adopted by Texas and Oklahoma — fake it.
As for me, when it comes to the situation WVU and the other Big 12 teams find themselves in, I have always preferred this quotation from Groucho:
“I have a mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it.”
And if you tell anybody I said that, there’s one more Groucho Marx quote for you:
“Quote me as saying I was misquoted.”
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