This conference realignment stuff is starting to get really whacky. In the last week, we've seen Big 12 powers Oklahoma and Texas inform the league they plan to leave the conference and join the SEC, the possibility of a Big 12/PAC 12 merger was discussed, and now, the Big 12 has it out for ESPN.
Wednesday, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and the Big 12 Conference sent ESPN a cease and desist letter stating that the TV company has damaged the Big 12 Conference in efforts to build up the SEC, which has its own network on ESPN. Bowlsby also told Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger that he has documented evidence that ESPN tried to encourage an unnamed conference to add Big 12 members in an effort to destabilize the league which would allow Texas and Oklahoma to avoid paying their exit fees of nearly $80 million.
Late Wednesday night, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports reported that the Big 12 believes that the American Athletic Conference is attempting to take the remaining eight members of the league which lines up with Dellenger's report. If all of this turns out to be true, we could be seeing West Virginia find its new home in the AAC. Of course, the preferred destination would be the ACC but they have been hard on WVU in the past due to academics and the TV market that West Virginia provides. If the ACC doesn't take interest in adding WVU, the American may be the next best option.
Why not the Big Ten? Well, as I stated in an article earlier this week, the Big Ten is not likely to consider WVU because it is not currently a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU). To qualify as an AAU, a school must be a research university that transforms lives through education, research, and innovation. WVU has been pushing out posts on social media that puts on display how advanced they are in medical research including searching for a cure for Alzheimer's. This leads me and many others to believe that WVU is trying to gain AAU membership which would give them more options in conference realignment and would make them more appealing to conferences such as the ACC and Big Ten.
If the American ends up being West Virginia's landing spot along with the remaining eight Big 12 members, it would create a 19-team league. Current members of the AAC consist of Cincinnati, Temple, South Florida, Central Florida, Wichita State (in basketball), Houston, Memphis, Navy (in football), SMU, Tulsa, Tulane, and East Carolina. The newcomers would be Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech, and West Virginia.
From a basketball standpoint, this would be an ultra-competitive league. AAC members Houston, Cincinnati, and Wichita State have a long history of success on the hardwood and pairing that with the likes of Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor, WVU, and Texas Tech could make it the deepest league in the country. As for the football side of it, the conference might not be viewed as a Power Five league. Yes, there would be eight Big 12 schools but 11 others that have been in the Group of Five since the last wave of realignment.
What could the two divisions look like in football?
If they were to go geographical, my guess would be Houston, Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Tulsa, and SMU in the "West" and Cincinnati, Temple, South Florida, Central Florida, Tulane, Iowa State, Memphis, Navy and West Virginia in the "East". The only thing about splitting into East and West is that the East side of the conference is extremely weak compared to the West. Maybe they could do something similar to what the Big Ten did roughly a decade ago when they called the divisions "Legends" and "Leaders" and go with "Stars" and "Stripes" divisions to keep the American theme going. This would allow for the conference to be evenly balanced.
Once again, I'm not advocating for WVU to push for the AAC and am merely just laying out what joining the AAC would look like. The ACC is the way to go for West Virginia but there has to be interest on both sides for it to work, obviously.
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