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An Expanded Big 12 Could Provide A Way Forward For West Virginia

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When discussing what’s going to happen to West Virginia in the wake of Oklahoma and Texas heading off to the SEC, with the SEC expected to approve their invitations to the conference as early as Friday, WVU is often a non-issue.

If you read any article on ESPN, The Athletic, Yahoo or wherever, WVU is usually just slipped in in a random paragraph or omitted altogether. I get it, WVU isn’t a national brand, but are they really that far off the trio of Texas Tech, Baylor or TCU? No.

While Kansas and Iowa State have apparently reached out to the Big 10, the aforementioned trio has reached out to the Pac 12, and the AAC has been rumored to have been goaded into trying to absorb the remaining Big 12 schools, WVU hasn’t been in the headlines much. There hasn’t been much of a WVU response, maybe because Morgantown is over 1,000 miles from league headquarters, and WVU athletic director Shane Lyons has kept his statements level-headed — echoing the sentiments of most Big 12 schools.

Among WVU fans, where the Mountaineers will wind up has been an oft-debated topic. Some hope WVU winds up requesting and being offered an ACC invite. There have been Big 10 whispers (which are seemingly over with the Big 10 only wanting Association of American Universities schools) and the Big 12 was rumored to have reached out to the Pac 12 over a potential merger last week. For WVU, the three options appear to be ACC, AAC or sticking with the Big 12.

According to Mike DeCourcy, Sporting News college basketball columnist, sticking with the Big 12 may actually be the best option for WVU — for a couple of reasons.

“I don’t think really much has changed,” DeCourcy told West Virginia Sports Now. “[WVU has] shown they can remain competitive in a conference that’s geographically challenging for them. It’s always difficult to be the geographic extreme in a conference. You can look over, especially in the realignment days, you can see that teams that are not really part of the footprint often struggle.”

DeCourcy said of the eight Big 12 teams remaining, (WVU, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State), WVU will have an attraction — if the other conferences feel compelled to act.

“What happens next comes down to, what I talked about in my column, FOMO (fear of missing out),” DeCourcy said. “Do the ACC, Big 10, Pac 12 feel compelled to do this just to do it? Because that’s really what you’re doing, you’re doing it because you fear, ‘if we don’t, who else might? And if we don’t, what does that do to us relative to the SEC?'”

Referencing Stewart Mandel of The Athletic and David Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, two guys, DeCourcy said, who have excellent contacts and understanding of collegiate sports, DeCourcy reiterated their viewpoints that the Oklahoma and Texas moves may not trigger an avalanche. “The reality of the remaining Big 12 teams is that none move the needle enough for you to go ahead and move,” DeCourcy said.

While DeCourcy said there is some logic in that rationale, logic doesn’t always play into these sorts of decisions. If the ACC wants to poach from the Big 12, he said WVU is the only logical choice — and that it’d be a good landing spot for the Mountaineers.

However, a reconfigured Big 12 conference, which would maintain its autonomy five conference status in this case (probably the most important situation for WVU to retain, for more information on autonomy), would offer a new route for WVU. Albeit, a route with less revenue than the previous Big 12 iteration.

“In the NCAA bylaws right now, the Big 12 stands as an autonomy five conference,” DeCourcy said. “It’s written into whatever documents they have, whatever sacred stones they have, they’re one of them.” The AAC is not. 

If the Big 12 were to add some combination or all of Memphis, UCF, Houston and/or Cincinnati, the conference would likely survive. With the rapidly changing landscape of streaming, cable and digital media, a new TV deal in 2025 could look vastly different. So, DeCourcy said, while a new Big 12 wouldn’t make SEC or Big 10 money, the conference was never going to in the first place.

“[A new TV deal] would definitely be worth less,” DeCourcy said. “In the cable world, it would be worth less. But the cable world isn’t the only world now. So, that’s what the Big 12 would have to future out. Is there a revenue stream out there that could make us whole or improve our luck?”

Streaming is still relatively new, and the number of streamers, on a per team basis and nationally, and the actual streaming services will be vastly different by then. Hulu offers live sports, and Amazon is jumping into streaming the NFL. Which company is next?

From a football perspective, WVU would have better chances in a revamped Big 12 than one with Oklahoma still around.

“The best thing for West Virginia is they don’t tumble off the map necessarily because of Texas or Oklahoma,” DeCourcy said. “The coming expansion of the football playoff, the way it was presented initially, the top conferences get an auto-bid. You know what that says for West Virginia? If we’re in and Oklahoma and Texas are gone, we might actually get that bid.”

In the newly proposed College Football Playoff setup, one that could be implemented in the next couple of seasons, but with some questions now as realignment occurs, the top six conference champions in college football will earn a playoff berth, with six more at-large teams earning spots. With Oklahoma (and Texas, I suppose) out of the way, WVU’s chances of winning in the Big 12 would rise — even with excellent football teams like Cincinnati, UCF and Memphis also in the picture.

From a basketball standpoint, WVU would remain a top team in the Big 12 for the long haul, as long as Huggins is around — and if WVU can successfully replace him once Huggins steps away. The potential is there for WVU to be better off in the revamped Big 12.

“As long as they have Huggins; he’s shown he can fit in, make it work wherever. I think that says a lot about him, but then post Huggins, when he decides he’s coached enough, then it really becomes a challenge from a standpoint of competing if they’re in the old Big 12. But a new Big 12 that would be more geographically suited to WV, where Cincinnati is four and a half, five hours away. Where Memphis isn’t that far, there are teams that are just as geographically disparate as you, Central Florida, all of a sudden the logic starts to help them some. From a basketball standpoint, as long as they successfully replace Huggins — and that’s no easy feat — as long as they do that, a new Big 12 would not be disadvantageous.”

In the wake of Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby’s explosive statement regarding ESPN’s supposed tampering with the AAC and Big 12, the Big 12 absorbing the AAC would make more sense. Mainly because the Big 12 would then retain its autonomy conference status. While the Big 12-ESPN shockwave will continue to play out, a united Big 12/AAC would actually make sense, just not in the way of trying to dissolve the Big 12 like ESPN is accused of doing.

With a TV deal still running through 2024, an automatic bid in the new playoff format and potential revenue from Oklahoma and Texas attempting to push through earlier SEC football, there are incentives to staying. The grant of rights battle between the Big 12 powerhouses and the Big 12 itself could grow costly, benefiting the remaining Big 12 teams.

When Maryland left the ACC for the Big 10 in 2011, the Terps paid $31 million of a $52 million buyout in a very messy divorce settlement. The cost to exit the Big 12 for Oklahoma and Texas could be as much as $76 million, but it remains to be seen how the financial fallout will impact the conference and its remaining teams.

So, while an expanded Big 12 could make sense for WVU and the remaining Big 12 teams, what will be the factors in the other conferences beginning to look into poaching the remaining teams?

“Money and fear, for lack of a better term, are the two factors,” DeCourcy said. “Money, if there’s more money to be made, obviously Texas and Oklahoma are telling us that people will do it. Even if it’s not to their competitive advantage, they’ll choose money.

“The other is just that fear factor of if we don’t do this, somebody else will and who are we gonna get? If I’m one of those leagues, I don’t see anybody out there that I have to have to change my station.”

The Big 12 without Oklahoma and Texas, will not be a high-dollar revenue generator — wasn’t even with both schools — or a conference that draws all of the eyes, but there are some great programs left. DeCourcy said Baylor is the defending college basketball national champion, Kansas boasts one of the most prestigious basketball programs in the country, Texas Tech has produced Patrick Mahomes and so on, but they won’t be the SEC or Big 10.

The next step for the Big 12, and every member school by extension, is to figure out a way forward.

“I’m sure everyone will be reaching out to see that they have the next move in mind, and I’m sure everyone is going to see, ‘OK, what’s the market for me?’ And that’s understandable,” DeCourcy said. “And I think the remaining thing on every Big 12 school’s agenda has to be, ‘how do we make this Big 12 the best it can possibly be?’ No. 2 is, ‘who else might have me?'”

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