The divorce between West Virginia and the Big East Conference has been a real-life rendition of the Wedding Crashers opening scene.
Editor’s Note: If you’re offended by vulgarity, I recommend you skip this clip.
The Mountaineers and Big East shared happy moments. Who can forget Pat White leading an amazing rally vs. Louisville in 2005, and WVU’s Sugar Bowl defeat of Georgia later that season? WVU won at least a share of six conference championships between 2003 and 2011. Yet now, the Big East is across the mediation table from it, figuratively shouting hillbilly! — maybe not even figuratively. We don’t know what specifically is being said in the ongoing litigations between the two sides.
Details of WVU’s early split are still murky. The proverbial alimony figure has been reported as $11 million or $20 million (per HailWV.com) to get West Virginia into the Big 12 for 2012. The $9 million of difference are substantial, but if McMurphy’s reported $20 million figure is accurate, would that be enough to keep WVU in a loveless marriage for one more season?
The Big East is simply delaying the inevitable, expending energy on one season — energy that had it been focused in 2010, could have prevented this ugly split altogether.
In June of that year, the first shifts of college football’s structure began when the Pac-10 expanded to 12 via Colorado and Utah, Nebraska jumped on board with the Big Ten, and rumors of 16-team super conferences swirled with every unsourced, unsubstantiated tweet.
Silence from the Big East spoke volumes. The most ignored of the six BCS conferences was fittingly forgotten, gaining no one but losing nothing either. The Big 12 was teetering on the brink of extinction, thanks in part to the ill-conceived Longhorn Network. Some agression — any aggression — would have done the conference wonders. Snagging the Big 12′s northermost members Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, and a pre-SEC Missouri, as well as disgruntled BYU from the Mountain West, would likely have prevented any of the deterioation the Big East has faced since.
TCU’s addition in November 2010 was a major victory, and the kind of aggression the conference needed from the onset. The Horned Frogs are an established program that, through consecutive BCS bowl appearances and numerous double digit-win campaigns, has earned the clout to break through the glass ceiling. But through more inaction, TCU was a divorcee before even the honeymoon.
Television is a catalyst behind realignment, and the Big East’s contract is paltry. Marinatto’s response in 2011, and likely the tipping point pushing Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC, was turning down $1 billion. Now, the conference is fighting tooth-and-nail for 1-to-2 percent of that from WVU. Ironic.
Adding more irony is that the Pitt and Syracuse departures led to TCU’s reversal of commitment. There to welcome the Frogs was the Big 12. Yep, the same conference the Big East could have delivered a deathblow to in the summer of 2010 is a key contributor to its current state of flux.
The Big East isn’t dead, nor is it headed to join the Metro, Great Midwest or Southwestern Conferences in the college sports graveyard (assuming losing four programs in less than a year has been a wake-up call). While Karl Benson was without any response as the Mountain West picked the Western Athletic Conference bare, Marinatto has lured new members. Boise State is a great addition. it would be a better addition if its arrival meant an extension of the great, burgeoning rivalry with TCU. But nevertheless, BSU gives the remodeled Big East a nationally recognized football program to promote.
Navy is making the right choice joining in 2015, and the Big East gets the added benefit of a national fanbase. The rest of the newcomers all have high ceilings for potential. Houston is coming off a 13-win campaign, and is welcoming a strong recruiting class. June Jones has reestablished SMU as a consistent bowl program. UCF, Memphis and San Diego State are all located in recruiting hotbeds, and each has large undergraduate populations, and thus large alumni pools, from which to pull fans. Belief is that association with a BCS conference will help them reach their potential.
However, the conference is banking on potential. The last time it chased potential was turning down the 10-year ESPN extension in hopes of brokering a Pac-12′ish deal with FOX or NBC, and we have seen how that’s unfolded. Furthermore, the Big East’s BCS Conference label may mean nothing in two years. Should a new system throw out the old distinction of automatic qualifiers, the Big East has little on which to stake its football reputation.
The messiness with which West Virginia departs only sullies what the league is trying to do with its future.