After nearly a decade of being a member of the Big 12 Conference, West Virginia will more than likely have to find a new home.
Earlier this week, Texas and Oklahoma shocked the country with their interest in joining the SEC and will reportedly inform the Big 12 of their intentions to end their partnership with the league on Monday. This doesn't necessarily mean that the league will fold but when you take out the top two brands, it makes it seem almost impossible for its existence to continue.
West Virginia has been in this situation before back in 2010 when the collapse of the Big East began. Former WVU AD Oliver Luck called around to several different leagues to inquire about conference affiliation. The ACC denied West Virginia entrance and the SEC did not seem all that interested, so that left WVU with limited options. It was either be a member of the newly formed American Athletic Conference and not be considered a Power Five program or join the Big 12.
The Big 12 has never been ideal for West Virginia from a geographical and historical standpoint. Prior to joining the league, WVU had very little history with any teams in the league which pretty much wiped out the annual rivalries that fans look forward to seeing. During WVU's days in the Big East, fans would be able to make the road trips to see the Mountaineers play at Pitt, Cincinnati, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Syracuse, and so on. Traveling to road games has become extremely difficult for WVU fans with the closest Big 12 institution being 871 miles away - Iowa State.
Knowing how forward-thinking current athletic director Shane Lyons is, I highly doubt West Virginia will wait around to see what the Big 12 will do which is either merge with the PAC-12 or add two to four new schools to the conference. WVU needs security and joining the ACC or Big Ten would give them exactly that.
The ACC is the clear, obvious fit when you look around at what other schools are already in the league. Not to mention, Notre Dame is a partial member of the ACC as it is, so if the ACC wants to get to 16 members, they could just add West Virginia and hope that Notre Dame forfeits its independence which won't be easy considering the money they make in their TV partnership with NBC.
All of West Virginia's main rivals are in the ACC which would mean the return of the Backyard Brawl (Pitt), Black Diamond Trophy (Virginia Tech), and the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy (Syracuse). A few colleagues of mine in the Pittsburgh and Blacksburg areas have told me that Pitt and Virginia Tech fans are hoping WVU gets admitted into the ACC. This also seems to be a consensus among West Virginia fans and it's easy to see why. You don't have that long history with Baylor, TCU, or any other Big 12 school. I know Texas was an easy target for WVU to develop a rivalry with but the Longhorns don't view WVU as a rival and never will. Playing those regional rivalries on a yearly basis is what makes college athletics what they are.
The Big Ten, for me, would be the 'Plan B' option for West Virginia if things don't work out with the ACC. It's still a geographical fit and there are some schools that WVU has a history with such as Maryland, Rutgers, and Penn State. What makes the Big Ten really appealing is the revenue the conference generates. For example, in 2020, the Big Ten made $768.9 million according to USA Today. That was the most revenue generated by a Power Five conference ahead of the SEC ($728.9 million), PAC-12 ($533.8 million), ACC ($496.7 million), and Big 12 ($409.2 million).
Whether it's the ACC or the Big Ten, we should naturally see an improvement in WVU's recruiting classes. It makes it much easier to sell a brand that is playing games both home and away in the region you are recruiting than it is playing in a league that's in a completely different time zone.
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