WVU football: Big donor to WVU chimes in on conference realignment
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Ken Kendrick's eyes will be on the field this evening as his Arizona Diamondbacks play an elimination game against the Milwaukee Brewers in the Major League Baseball playoffs.
The Diamondbacks managing general partner's mind might still wander to his alma mater - West Virginia University - and what's happening there.
"They, and everyone else in college sports, are waiting until the next soap opera appears," said Kendrick, a Princeton native and a 1965 graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration.
"It changes every day, but it does seem like with all that goes on these days in conference realignment, all the decisions will be driven very much by media rights."
Kendrick, a generous donor who still sits on the WVU Foundation's Board of Directors, worked on business mergers and acquisitions in his prior career.
He sees some similarities in a conference searching for and acquiring a university.
"The acquirer asks, 'What does this acquisition bring to my company or to my conference?' " Kendrick said.
"In this case, West Virginia, if I'm looking at a check list - and I'm obviously a big West Virginia guy - just can't get check marks for a number of things that are important to the acquirer. It's not as though we would bring no value, but compared to other schools, we don't bring as much value. That's where we fall short."
Last month Pitt and Syracuse said they were leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Texas Christian University announced plans Thursday that will eventually lead it to the Big 12.
The Horned Frogs decided last year to join the Big East in 2012 and bring with them meaningful data the Big East could use when the BCS bids are renegotiated after the 2013 season.
Those numbers, in addition to those three schools, can't be considered now.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers are left on the outside watching and waiting for something to break while knowing important factors are out of their control.
"The general theme as I understand from people back in West Virginia is that we've had some outstanding teams on the field, very good success, devoted fans throughout the state, but that a dominating factor with the larger conferences is the media rights they can obtain for their members," Kendrick said.
"The schools that they choose bring media markets to the table that maybe that conference doesn't have and now they can enhance their package in negotiations with whomever the carrier is, whether it's Fox Sports or CBS or others without naming them.
"I think West Virginia, just as a fact, is in a tough place. We don't have a major city. We don't have a major media market at all - and I mean that as no disrespect. There's nothing wrong with that. But it is a small state with small towns."
Kendrick said things are similar in baseball, which produces significant revenue from its local media rights because there is a lot of content for a large number of games. The regional sports networks focus on that content and what can be made from it.
"The volume of content is the same with Pittsburgh and Phoenix," he said. "If you look at the number of television sets and the number of people who will buy cable and therefore pay the fee for our games on their network, we outdistance Pittsburgh, just like we're outdistanced by the Yankees and New York.
"That's what it's all about. These guys pay a fee and they want a return. The return is the number of subscribers. West Virginia just isn't up on that list when compared to other schools and those factors are more of the drivers for these decisions."
WVU has produced conference champions and won major postseason games in football and men's basketball, the most important sports in college athletics. Expansion smaller sports have had similar success winning the conference and advancing in postseason play.
Yet, it is Pitt and Syracuse from the conference, TCU from afar and Missouri from another conference that either advance or stand in the way of the Mountaineers, even with their significant, and, in some cases, superior athletic achievements.
"That part is probably not as easy to communicate to the public," Kendrick said. "People may say, 'Gosh, our football teams have been successful, our basketball teams have been successful.' Guess what? Having great teams is not what it's all about. Not that it's of no consequence, but it's far less important."
Kendrick used Rutgers as an example. The Scarlet Knights have lost 16 consecutive games to the Mountaineers in football and are 4-29-2 in the series. In basketball, WVU has won six straight and 12 of 16 since 2000. The football team has the conference titles and BCS wins. The basketball team has a Big East Tournament title and appearances in the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight and Final Four.
Rutgers, quite simply, does not, but Kendrick says the school has an advantage.
"They're located in a major media area with so many television sets there and a number of eyeballs that can be brought to the conference and the footprint of that conference," he said. "Including them would probably be considered better for those looking to bring somebody to the table.
"They can't compete, mostly, with West Virginia, or they haven't competed successfully in recent years, but they are probably more desirable. I know that's very odd and probably very difficult to accept, but that does seem to be the general thinking."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.