After two full seasons of football in a new conference, West Virginia should not only be at the forefront of the lobbying effort to add more teams to the Big 12, but ideally to add between two and four more teams from the eastern region of the United States, in particular.
Let’s face it. While it’s certainly a good thing the Mountaineers escaped the collapsing Big East Conference when they did, the transition also hasn’t necessarily been smooth, especially in regard to the on-the-field success of WVU’s various athletic programs.
Because apart from a few minor exceptions – the dominant women’s soccer team being the most notable – West Virginia has collectively and mightily struggled in conference play the last two years, especially on the road.
West Virginia’s two biggest revenue-generating sports, football and men’s basketball, have pooled a pitiful 12-24 in conference play since joining the Big 12, which includes an abysmal six combined road wins during that span.
But after nearly two complete seasons – basketball still just getting underway, baseball still a few months off – it’s also become fairly clear West Virginia is in fact at a distinct disadvantage regarding its hefty travel requirements, which are more significant than any other team in the conference.
Now, while it would be foolish to blame West Virginia’s struggles completely on the burden of its travel, it would be equally foolish to dismiss it as a non-factor. Both Dana Holgorsen and Bob Huggins have commented on how much more taxing the lengthy and complicated travel has been compared to their initial expectations.
For example, quite recently the WVU men’s basketball team traveled to Cancun for the four-team Cancun Classic Tournament. And believe it or not, the trip south of the border actually took less time than the team’s trip to Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas, in the 2012-13 season.
Just let that sink in for a second. It took less time for the Mountaineers to get to Mexico than to the campus of a conference opponent.
But things could still change in the coming years.
There continue to be some rumblings he Big 12 could still be contemplating an expansion to 12 or perhaps even 14 total schools at some point in the future.
For West Virginia and its fans, this is really the best-case scenario. By adding more (preferably eastern-based)schools into the fold, the Big 12 could follow the trend of the four other power football conferences (SEC, ACC, Big 10, Pac-12) and establish two divisions with a season-end conference championship game.
The Playoff Selection Committee – of which WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck is now a member – has officially stated at this point the lack of a league championship game won’t affect a team’s consideration for one of the four playoff spots, although it still seems a conference championship game is still the best way to ultimately determine a conference’s best team.
What’s the biggest problem with expanding, specifically expanding east? It’s the simple lack of schools that are either not already tied to one of the aforementioned major football conferences or are actually talented enough across the board athletically to even warrant the Big 12 accepting them, as conference officials certainly wouldn’t want to risk watering down the level of competition.
For example, some of the eastern-based schools that have been potentially tied to some of these early Big 12 expansion rumors are universities like Cincinnati, UConn, UCF and USF. On one hand, it could be considered somewhat enticing, because you could theoretically revive some old Big East rivalries for WVU while also potentially curbing some of the Mountaineers’ travel. On the other hand, it’s probably safe to say not a single one of those school’s athletic programs are even as collectively proficient as WVU, which has obviously struggled mightily with its own move into the Big 12.
Regardless, it’s highly unlikely that adding WVU and TCU will be the last time the Big 12 expands, especially with the end of the BCS-era now nearly upon us. Realistically, there’s really no telling how the four-team playoff will affect the various conferences, but one would think it will certainly affect every single program and conference across the country to one degree or another.
The point is: sooner, rather than later, conference expansion talks within the Big 12 will undoubtedly reach yet another fever pitch.
This time around, however, it will be absolutely critical that WVU lobbies long and hard for the expansion to occur a little closer to home.