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Bragg: Nearly a Decade Has Passed, but Big 12 Still Doesn’t Feel Like Home for WVU

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(photo: Tom Bragg)

Let’s get this out of the way from the start: the Big 12 has been good to and for West Virginia University sports.

When the major conferences started to do some shifting again nearly a decade ago, WVU needed a place to land. The Big East was dying and the Atlantic Coast Conference made it clear the Mountaineers were not in its future plans. If not for the Big 12 (which, if you remember, nearly collapsed earlier during that round of realignment), West Virginia would have been left to either make a go of it as an independent or take several steps back with the other schools that bailed on the sinking Big East for the American Athletic Conference. Not ideal, but credit to Oliver Luck for finding a soft spot to hit as the Big East was crumbling. It will be the lasting legacy from Luck’s time as WVU’s athletic director, and history will remember him kindly for it.

Fast-forward to the present: the Big 12 lines WVU’s pockets with television money and puts the Mountaineers on national broadcasts against some of the sport’s blue blood programs. Still, the league just doesn’t feel like home for West Virginia.

I grew up in West Virginia but I didn’t grow up a WVU fan — I did, however, grow up a huge fan of college football and in close proximity to some serious Mountaineer fans. West Virginia’s rivalry with Penn State was before my time so I can’t speak much on that, but with no Virginia Tech, Pitt, Maryland, Miami, Syracuse or even Louisville on the schedule every year the sense I get is Mountaineers fans have been — for the most part — going through the motions. In the past, there was a spark there for most opponents that just doesn’t feel like is there nearly as often anymore.

Yes, they get up for Texas, but Texas is Texas. You ever meet a snotty rich kid with an extremely punchable face? That’s Texas. It’s not hard to get excited for a chance to punch that guy and when you land the blow it’s going to feel great. Oklahoma is a similar deal, but WVU has swung and missed at the Sooners all eight times they’ve played since the Mountaineers joined the conference for the 2012 season.

Obviously, WVU fans still love their Mountaineers and are as die-hard as die-hard gets, but it just doesn’t feel the same and I know I’m not the only one who has noticed. My pals at The Smoking Musket probably put it best following Saturday’s loss at Texas Tech:

This is the ninth football season for West Virginia in the Big 12, and the Mountaineers still feel lost. Maybe with time, as more people who have grown up knowing nothing but WVU in the Big 12 come of age — and maybe, you know, if West Virginia ever beats Oklahoma — that feeling will change. Speaking from experience, Marshall’s move to Conference USA in 2005 felt the same way for a long time. I still don’t love the fit for the Thundering Herd in C-USA, but Marshall fans have had enough time to build some history with teams like Southern Miss, UAB and more recently Western Kentucky. Being involved in the conference championship game a few times and winning it once helps too.

That doesn’t mean the Big 12 will absolutely feel like home for WVU one day, but it is at least a sign that it could. Still, I don’t think there would be many hard feelings from West Virginia’s new friends in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas if one day (presumably around the time existing deals between conferences and broadcast partners are expiring) the ACC came calling and the Mountaineers wanted to leave. Would the ACC want WVU? That’s been a sore subject in the past, but if that day ever does come whoever is in charge — Shane Lyons or whoever is the athletic director at the time — would be a fool to pass it up the chance to get Pitt, Virginia Tech and Miami back on the schedule. Even the ACC teams WVU has a history with but less, let’s call it venom, for would be an upgrade.

Would you trade the chance to play Oklahoma and Texas plus teams like Kansas and Baylor each season for rivalry games against Pitt and Virginia Tech with Miami, Boston College, Louisville, Syracuse and sometimes Notre Dame also on the schedule?

I would.

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Tom has spent the last decade as a sports journalist based in West Virginia, most recently as the WVU beat writer for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and with previous stops at the Charleston Daily Mail, the (Fairmont) Times West Virginian and the Daily Independent in Ashland, Kentucky. He was born and raised in Cross Lanes, West Virginia -- where he currently resides -- and is a 2010 graduate of the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Marshall University.

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