The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

November 14, 2012

Mountaineers’ jump to the Big 12 a wise move

So far, I’ve received messages on Facebook, Twitter and e-mail — hold on, let me check my voicemail; yep, it’s there, too — all saying the same thing. West Virginia should have turned down the Big 12 and stayed in the Big East, where it was a yearly contender for a championship and competing with teams “on its own level.”

My reaction to each of them can be summed up with a quote from ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown crew — “C’Mon Man!”

Look, I understand that Mountaineer fans are frustrated — a four-game losing streak will do that to anybody — but to want to give up a spot in a league that is considered the second- or third-best in all of college football to go back to the league that’s the butt of college football jokes — because we all know that football is what’s steering the ship — is ludicrous.

For years, I’ve heard the same thing from Mountaineer fans all over the country. “We get no respect.” “Who wants to go see us play Rutgers and Connecticut?” “I get so sick of hearing all the jokes about the Big East.”

Now WVU loses a few games to some talented teams and all of a sudden being in the Big East was like living at a resort in Jamaica with an unlimited budget and a bikini model.

Officials at WVU were at a crossroads last fall with two choices in front of them. They could either stay in the Big East and become a “mid-major” football program, or they could search for a home among college football’s “big boys” and make a commitment to doing what it takes to compete at a higher level.

The fans I spoke to at that point were begging for a spot in a conference like the Big 12, and the administration made the decision — once it finally got the offer — to make a jump.

It was the right decision then, and it’s the right decision now, even after a four-game losing streak.

Just look at what the Big East is becoming. I remember listening to a college football preview show on ESPN Radio a few months ago, and the hosts were running through each conference and discussing the best players, the top teams, how those teams stacked up against teams from the other conferences and which games would eventually determine a champion. When they got to the Big East, they discussed just one topic — who’s actually in the league?

Giggling like a toddler in front of a mirror the entire time, the hosts made every joke possible about WVU’s former conference, before moving on to more important matters.

The Big East wasn’t exactly a top-notch league a couple years ago. But now without WVU, Syracuse and Pitt, and with others ready to jump off the sinking ship at the first opportunity, it’s a step below where it was even then. The old Big East — the one with Pitt, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and Boston College — was the right spot for the Mountaineers, but that league no longer exists.

I certainly respect the football program at Marshall, and the fans that follow it, but let’s tell the truth. There’s a big difference between a game day in Huntington and a game day in Morgantown, and it’s because of the level of competition on the other side of the field.

The new Big East, made up mostly of former Conference USA teams, isn’t going to be much different than The Herd’s current conference. WVU was in great danger of becoming Marshall if it kept its feet planted in the Big East soil.

As I mentioned above, there’s nothing wrong with Marshall, but for years, Mountaineer fans have talked about the ultimate dream of winning a national championship. That’s not possible for The Herd in its current league, and I’m pretty confident it would never be an option for WVU in the “new” Big East, either.

Take a look at Louisville, the top team in the current Big East. The Cardinals were undefeated a week ago — nine wins in as many tries — and they were still just ninth in the BCS standings. They were behind two teams, LSU and South Carolina, with two losses and two with one loss.

The only prayer Louisville had of ever playing for the big prize was to go undefeated and hope that every SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12 team lost at least two games and every ACC and Big 10 team had lost at least one. Those odds are about the same as being struck by lightning while holding the winning Powerball ticket.

“OK,” you say, “So the Big 12 makes sense as far as competition, but what about the travel costs of going to Oklahoma and Texas every other week?”

Have you taken a look at the new Big East?

The conference announced on Monday that it will be going to two six-team divisions next season, and two seven-team divisions beginning in 2014. Next year, teams will play five games against division opponents and three cross-over games.

Let’s assume WVU wouldn’t have drawn the short straw and ended up in the Big East West, where Temple, located in Philadelphia, will be playing next season. Even in the East, it would still have to make division trips to Central Florida (902 miles), South Florida (958 miles) and Connecticut (535 miles), as well as three games against opponents from the other division, which includes Boise State (2,208 miles), Houston (1,346 miles), Memphis (752 miles), San Diego State (2,476 miles), SMU (1,204 miles) and Temple (312 miles).

The travel in the Big East wouldn’t be much easier than it is in the Big 12, and if you’re going to get on a plane and fly to Texas, you might as well play in front of 100,000-plus at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium instead of 32,000 at SMU’s Gerald J. Ford Stadium.

Making the move to the Big 12 was a no-brainer for the Mountaineers. Now it’s up to everybody — players, coaches, fans, administration — to find a way to make the most of it, instead of trying to crawl back to the Big East and beating up on Temple and Rutgers.

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH

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