Like it or not, conference realignment has officially begun for the 2nd time in the last ten years.
Oklahoma and Texas got things started on Monday by informing the Big 12 Conference of their intentions to leave the league and join the SEC. With the Big 12 set to lose its top two members, the league is on the verge of collapsing. The remaining eight members will now have to weigh their options and make a decision on whether or not to stick out and see if the Big 12 can survive the loss of its biggest brands.
When the Big East began to crumble roughly a decade ago, West Virginia attempted to get into both the ACC and SEC but was denied entrance due to not being in a large TV market and not being a member of the AAU. Eventually, the Big 12 Conference agreed to bring on West Virginia but it never felt right. WVU was completely out of place being the only school on the east coast in the conference and travel has been a logistical nightmare for the WVU fan base. At the time, the Big 12 saved West Virginia from being stuck in a crumbling Big East that would then turn into the American Athletic Conference - a non-Power Five league. Sure, joining the Big 12 was never ideal but options were very limited and former WVU athletic director, Oliver Luck had connections to the Big 12.
This time around, WVU has connections to the ACC with AD Shane Lyons having served as the Associate Commissioner of Compliance and Governance in the league from 2001-11. However, if for whatever reason the ACC denies WVU entry once again, calling the Big Ten would likely be Lyons' next move.
Playing in the Big Ten seems like a good fit for WVU as it would reignite rivalries with Maryland, Penn State, and Rutgers. Of course, it's not the same as the ACC who has the school's main rivals - Pitt, Virginia Tech, and Syracuse but at least there is at least some history and it's definitely a geographical fit. Unfortunately, WVU is still not a member of the AAU which could be a major snag in their attempt to gain admittance into the conference. According to Adam Rittenberg of ESPN, the Big Ten will consider conference expansion but will only consider schools with AAU membership.
If you glance at the AAU official website, you will notice that 13 of the 14 Big Ten schools are in the AAU. The only school that doesn't have that affiliation is Nebraska. How are they in the conference? Well, at the time of joining the Big Ten, Nebraska was a member of the AAU. However, just months after joining, the AAU voted to remove Nebraska as a member. According to a post from the New York Times, Nebraska lagged behind most others on the criteria for membership - primarily competitive research financing and the share of faculty in the National Academies, which issues policy reports and advice. Despite losing their AAU designation, the Big Ten has allowed Nebraska to remain a member of the conference.
If the Big 12 were to fold, the Big 10 would show more interest in schools such as Kansas and Iowa State who are AAU members rather than West Virginia. So if WVU wants to remain in a Power Five conference, they have to hope that the ACC comes to its senses and gives them the stamp of approval.
What exactly is an AAU school?
The Association of American Universities (AAU) was founded in 1900 and has 66 members, 64 of which are located in the United States. To qualify as an AAU, a school must be a research university that transforms lives through education, research, and innovation. As stated in the AAU's mission statement, universities earn the majority of competitively awarded federal funding for research that improves public health, seeks to address national challenges, and contributes significantly to our economic strength while educating and training tomorrow’s visionary leaders and innovators.
AAU member universities collectively help shape policy for higher education, science, and innovation; promote best practices in undergraduate and graduate education, and strengthen the contributions of leading research universities to American society.
Below is a breakdown of schools that are AAU members by conference (FBS only)
ACC: Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Pitt, Virginia.
Big 10: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, Wisconsin.
Big 12: Iowa State, Kansas, Texas.
PAC-12: Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington.
SEC: Florida, Missouri, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt.
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