MORGANTOWN — All of a sudden there’s a haze in the air and it has nothing to do with the forest fires that are burning across the West Coast.
This haze, however, that is spreading across West Virginia is coming from a prairie fire that was lit in the southwest on Wednesday as word leaked out that Oklahoma and Texas were inquiring about jumping from the Big 12 Conference to the SEC, another sign in this era of those having too much getting more and those having too little getting nothing.
The SEC is the nation’s premier football conference, headed by Nick Saban’s national champion Alabama Crimson Tide, a 14-team league in a football-mad nation that is watching the structure of college football’s regulating body — the NCAA — crumble under pressures that it can’t control.
The path seems to be laid out for the SEC to grow into a 16-team super conference with the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, Auburn, Tennessee and Florida creating the biggest thing since the Beatles arrived on the American shores more than a half century ago.
Should this prove to be the real thing with Oklahoma and Texas ready to walk out on the Big 12, it would shake the foundation upon which college football is built and lead to either a reshuffling of the landscape with another round of realignment or a complete restructuring, which might not be a bad thing as it could result in a return to regional leagues that would best serve the schools that make them up.
Thursday afternoon, the Big 12 athletic directors and CEOs met to discuss the Oklahoma, Texas situation, a sign they were blindsided by the news.
Provincially speaking, why would West Virginia have any interest in playing in a Big 12 Conference without Texas and Oklahoma?
As far forward as WVU has moved since hitting bottom when they lost to Pitt as they approached a game to reach a national championship matchup with Ohio State, if you want to look at things realistically, the Mountaineers remain on the fringe when it comes to power schools in the NCAA.
During the first realignment, when the ACC began gobbling up their Big 12 partners, it became apparent that WVU very well could wind up on the outside looking in, as happened with Cincinnati. The ACC, where they belonged regionally — especially with it gathering up a collection of former regional rivals that included Virginia Tech — didn’t want WVU.
The Big Ten didn’t want WVU. The SEC didn’t want WVU.
In the end, they beat out Louisville for the last spot in the Big 12, which has proved to be anything but ideal in so many ways but which did serve the main purpose of keeping West Virginia as a significant participant among the power schools.
But what now?
Say the SEC decides to go all the way and take not only Texas and Oklahoma, but increase to a 32-team conference with four 8-team divisions, building on the NFL model. Would WVU find a fit there? Should they find a fit there?
It certainly would be the nation’s showcase conference as it ran from Florida to Texas perhaps snatching up the likes of Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor with the likes of Miami, Florida State and Central Florida.
And yes, the SEC would have to find a way to bring Clemson into its conference if it were to expand in such a way, meaning it could have the prime game in the nation virtually every Saturday of the fall.
Would that not make more sense for the SEC than simply to add Oklahoma and Texas?
What if they invaded the Big Ten, too, and grabbed off Nebraska as they recreated the Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry? One could clearly see the Big Ten leaping at rejuvenated Iowa State to join its league with Iowa its natural foe.
While out West the Pac-12 could very much remain intact due to geography, in the Midwest, East and Southeast which includes ACC territory, might have to consolidate and form a couple of Super Conferences of their own ... certainly, if the Mountaineers couldn’t get into the SEC, an ACC that has been raided would almost have to consider them for membership for it would have little to be snobbish about.
One could see an ACC with North Carolina, Duke, North Carolina State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, maybe Maryland back in there; Louisville, Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, and finally getting a fulltime member in Notre Dame, to go with Pitt, Boston College, Wake Forest, Syracuse and WVU.
With amateurism withering on the vine more each day, so, too, does the NCAA. These schools have little in common with Ohio U. or Villanova or Georgetown or so many other schools. The power football and basketball schools have grown into economic giants where academics remain an important part of the picture, but who have outgrown an academics-first image they once pretended to represent, however absurd that may have been?
A new governing body dedicated strictly to the needs of the schools who make up these power conferences and the athletes who attend them is necessary with academics still a major part of the picture but the academic emphasis being far less based upon the traditional curriculum and with alternatives for those who are there to be football and basketball and baseball and soccer players and coaches.
This, of course, may lead nowhere ... Oklahoma and Texas staying at home in the Big 12, but there are powerful forces working to change the structure of the sports entertainment that has become probably second in the U.S. to only the NFL.
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