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WVU Prioritizing Backyard Brawl Likely Means End to Other Regional Rivalries



WVU AD Wren Baker at Milan Puskar Stadium

In a perpetually changing college sports world, WVU director of athletics Wren Baker wants to keep one thing a constant – the Backyard Brawl.

During his end of the year press conference on Thursday, Baker was once again asked his feelings about a topic that’s always been a sensitive spot for West Virginia fans ever since the Mountaineers left the Big East for the Big 12. What does Baker prioritize when making a schedule, especially for football? How much does he care about trying to preserve rivalries or reignite old ones of the past?

And Baker has stayed consistent with his answer whenever met with a schedule question. Playing Pitt is his top priority when it comes to getting rivalry games on the non conference schedule.

“I fully expect that we’re going to extend that. The spirit is there. We just have to actually find time to sit down and get those done,” said Baker about keeping the Backyard Brawl alive across all sports.

Baker’s stance is a double-edged sword for Mountaineer Nation. Every WVU fan has a desire to play Pitt. And honestly, every Pitt fan seems to want to play West Virginia. But it’s pretty easy to figure out what Baker is communicating with how he responds to schedule questions and what he’s said in the past.

For a refresher, Baker has made it incredibly clear that he believes WVU should simply do what most other similar programs have been doing. This will indirectly mean an end to some of West Virginia’s other rivalries.

While it’s easier to make a schedule for sports like basketball with so many games available, the football schedule only permits three games outside Big 12 competition each season. That’s why Baker plans to put his energy on scheduling Pitt as WVU’s lone non Big 12 game against a now “Power Four” (Four with death of Pac-12) opponent.

Head coach Neal Brown and Baker are bonded on this issue. Both have repeatedly expressed their disagreement with WVU playing more games against schools from other major conferences than most other schools. West Virginia played 11 games against “Power” competition in 2023, which is one more than the 10 most programs have on the schedule. The growing sentiment is there’s no longer a need to stack an out of conference schedule with quality opponent inside the conference.

Neal Brown on WVU’s Recent Schedules: ‘That’s Just Not Smart Scheduling’

And this debate has been evident in recent seasons. In 2022, TCU made the College Football Playoff despite not winning the conference due to having five wins over ranked teams, all within conference play. However, one year later, only the departing Texas and Oklahoma stayed consistently ranked throughout the season.

But from the WVU perspective, even in a season the Mountaineers benefited from a “down” conference schedule and avoided having to play the eventual conference champion, it can be argued West Virginia still just traded one elite program for another on the overall schedule. WVU did not play Texas, but did open the season with an old regional rival in Penn State out of the Big Ten.

Baker knows there are fans who will be eternally unhappy that their beloved Mountaineers are in a conference that does not offer regional rivalries, but like it or not, college football is moving away from caring about geography and his job is to do what’s best for the program as a whole, even if that upsets a segment of the fanbase. This is something he’s frequently come to terms with when making tough, even unpopular decisions for some, in a year filled with turmoil.

When possible, Baker hopes to fill out the rest of WVU’s future schedules with one “Power” school, one “Group of 5” and then an FCS. This is a similar strategy to what most programs have already been employing across the country.

Wren Baker Reiterates Ideal Non Conference Football Schedule for WVU

This means West Virginia fans should expect to see the Backyard Brawl as often as possible, but should also say goodbye to other rivalries of the past, even some that have been rebooted in recent years. If Baker is focusing on making Pitt the only football non conference “Power” game, the obviously leaves no room to schedule any future series with Virginia Tech, Maryland, Penn State or any old Big East opponent.

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