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WVU football: Big mistake if Mountaineers bolt for the SEC

By Jack Bogaczyk

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At West Virginia, as it relates to the athletics conference realignment in which the university is a player, any decision on where to stay or go should not be made about money.

It should be rooted in the ability to consistently compete. Winning does not solve everything, but it sure makes life happier and easier.

The decision should be rooted in realism when it comes to the flagship school in a smaller state with limited resources.

 As WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck put it after a recent Big East gathering: "We are, and will remain, a national player in college athletics."

West Virginia can do that in the Big East, Big 12 or Southeastern conferences. It can do it easier and more handily and consistently in some than in others. Whatever WVU does, it is hedging its bets against other dominos falling.

The Big East has another meeting on Nov. 1 (previously scheduled, prior to the upheaval caused by the Pitt and Syracuse exits). WVU may know where it's going before then, but if it doesn't, it probably needs to have a handle on it by that gathering.

It's fair to assume the Big East and its basketball schools will want answers at that time on who's in and who's out because any expansion won't take place without that. It's fair to assume they could push for a vote to raise the withdrawal fee from $5 million, perhaps as much as triple it.

Big East balloting on policy change and membership need a three-fourths majority (or 11 of 14 right now; TCU is not yet a voting member and Pitt and Syracuse won't get votes as exiting members).

The entire membership votes on any membership additions, not just football members on football-only schools. So, a Marquette or DePaul would vote on a Navy admittance for football.

If this conference upheaval is still in flux, I don't know if the Big East can get 11 votes on a hiked exit fee, because four or more football members still may be trying to figure out where they could land.

Also, any move to raise exit fees is a vote going into effect in future school years (as we learned in the Big 12, when Texas A&M left). So, anyone leaving the Big East this year is still on the $5 million, 27-month plan.

Luck isn't asking my opinion - and WVU President Jim Clements has said so little on this subject compared to some other Big East leaders that we've been getting more stuff from Coach Dana Holgorsen's closed practices - but here's what I think:

If WVU is offered a spot in the Big 12, it should go there. If not, the Mountaineers will remain an elite member of the Big East, one of the cornerstones in the league (and with Rutgers the only remaining original members of the football conference founded in 1991).

As for the SEC, it's a dream by many among WVU fandom, and it might soon become a reality. It also could be a nightmare for the Mountaineers. I don't think WVU should make that very large football leap.

If the SEC chooses WVU and the Mountaineers say yes, well, I'm wrong for now ... but I'll be right about what it will take for WVU to compete.

Simply put, West Virginia will not be as nationally relevant in football - on a consistent basis - in the SEC as it would with its other options.

Yes, WVU can make about $10 million more annually in SEC revenue sharing than it does in the Big East now. But the expense is greater, too. The Mountaineers would need to build, build, build. They would need a new baseball field; they may need to add sports, like golf and softball.

It would need another conference home for its prominent men's soccer team. The SEC does not play men's soccer.

Let's put it another way: If WVU goes to the SEC, in order to compete on a perennial basis in football, it would probably be time to end that tired, oft-repeated line about "a self-supporting athletic program" in Morgantown. It would need state help, seriously.

It's one thing to be competitive or win a one-timer against an SEC football program. Some say WVU was competitive with LSU in the recent game at Mountaineer Field. Really, I'm not sure a four-touchdown loss at home says that.

But the SEC is a weekly diet of that kind of challenge, and on the road it's before about 90,000 fans most weeks (the average home SEC crowd was 89,164 last weekend).

A steady diet of SEC football games - eight or nine a season - is a different animal. What is a 10-2 season in the Big East is about 7-5 in the SEC, which probably is good enough to get the SEC's Nos. 7 or 8 bowl berth, the Liberty or Music City.

It's about this: How much do fans want to win? If you're 7-5, you have fewer home sellouts. You get fewer contributions, after the initial outpouring because of the conference change. You sell fewer concessions, apparel. You don't sell beer (the SEC doesn't allow it).

In the Big East, WVU is a perennial Bowl Championship Series contender. Yes, it would be tougher in a Big 12 with Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and maybe TCU, but it's not the weekly gantlet the SEC provides.

WVU will be more than fine, whether it stays Big East or goes to the Big 12 or SEC, in men's and women's basketball. Those will remain top programs in any of the conference options.

There were rumors floating around Monday and Tuesday that SEC Commissioner Mike Slive was in Morgantown. Nope. It was confirmed to me he was in his Birmingham, Ala., office both days.

At WVU, however, there is movement to determine just how to go forward on future conference membership, whether it's a Board of Governors' decision and by what percentage of votes, whether the BOG should just let Clements make the call in consultation with Luck and then rubber-stamp it ... It's getting prepared for something sooner or later.

The Big 12 still can't decide whether it wants 10 or 12 members. I'm told if it's 10 (what Texas wants), and Missouri leaves, then the Big 12 is likely to make a BYU and Boise State move. If it's 12 (which the rest of the Big 12 wants), then it's more likely BYU, TCU, WVU and Louisville.

Some at WVU that like the Big 12 wonder whether the two Oklahoma schools and Texas have bought in strongly enough, or whether they'd jump to the Pac-12 if that option presents itself in the coming years.

If that happens, a West Virginia would be more of a national player in the Big 12. And you can't worry about that, no more than you can worry about Connecticut and Rutgers leaving the Big East. As long as WVU is sure the Big East will keep a BCS automatic bid, its current conference is not a bad place to be at all because of where WVU stands in that league.

It's obviously the Big East is easiest route to the BCS (as Pitt and Syracuse will find out soon enough). Why do you think TCU wanted in?

There are no package deals here, but I can tell you - after being in Louisville last weekend to cover Marshall's win over the Cardinals - that West Virginia and U of L want to be in the same boat, be it Big East or Big 12.

It all depends on which sized fish WVU wants to be in what sized pond. The Mountaineers need to seriously look before they leap.

Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at jackb@dailymail.com or 304-348-7949.


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