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WVU football: Creative scheduling used to fit Alabama

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Barely two weeks ago, West Virginia settled its exit from a two-game football series with Florida State and seemed to have achieved scheduling serenity through 2016.

The Big 12 provided nine conference games every year and the Mountaineers had contractual agreements with three non-conference opponents for each season. Worries about complications from preexisting series with Michigan State and Florida State disappeared.

Wednesday night, however, WVU admitted a season-opening game against Alabama in 2014 was close to reality, which sent the scheduling wheels spinning.

The matchup was made official Thursday for Aug. 30, 2014. Initially, Deputy Director of Athletics Mike Parsons said the game against the Crimson Tide in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in the Georgia Dome was "in the works," but could not confirm anything.

The explanation is simple: WVU needed to make room for Alabama by unloading one of the three non-conference games on the 12-game schedule: at home against the FCS's Towson or on the road against Maryland or East Carolina.

A WVU source said Wednesday the game at ECU in 2014 was pushed back. An ECU source said Thursday the two schools have recently had conversations about dates as well as sites for future games.

The six-year series with the Pirates returns with a game at Mountaineer Field in 2013 and runs through 2018. The two sides have been talking about stretching the series and swapping home and road games to accommodate schedules for both teams.

It's also conceivable that they play an off-campus/neutral-site game. WVU has a few lined up in coming years, including 2012-14 and 2016. ECU played and beat Virginia Tech in Charlotte, N.C., in 2008. The Pirates also beat the Mountaineers there in 1999.

The 2015 and 2017 games between the Mountaineers and Pirates are tentatively planned for Mountaineer Field and for now WVU doesn't have an off-campus game scheduled.

The maneuvering might not end there.

WVU and Maryland play every year through 2017, but that could change with the Atlantic Coast Conference welcoming Pitt and Syracuse from the Big East in 2014 - or perhaps in 2013 now that the Panthers have sued the Big East to exit in time for the 2013 season.

Whenever Pitt and Syracuse join the Terrapins in the ACC, the conference will have 14 teams and change its league schedule from eight games to nine. Maryland will have to make room on its schedule, which could cost WVU its spot.

Then there's the matter of WVU's conference affiliation. Florida State has been in the news for, at the very least, a future connection to the Big 12. Should that happen, the Seminoles would enter with another team and give the Big 12 a dozen teams, thus changing the way it schedules games.

The Big 12 could keep a nine-game schedule or it could drop to eight, which would give WVU another non-conference opportunity to address.

Complicating that, however, is the effect Big 12 expansion would have on the ACC. If it loses Florida State, and maybe a second team, its schedule could return to eight games and members would need non-conference games. That might give the Mountaineers a way to play Maryland and perhaps even Pitt.

The larger concern for WVU might be in finding ways to schedule seven home games to generate income needed with some of the athletic department's debts.

The move to the Big 12 gives the Mountaineers two more conference games than they had in the Big East, where they were able to schedule more non-conference home games. "It's not a challenge - it's almost impossible to get seven every year now," Parsons said.

As it stands today, the only season through 2016 that looks likely to have seven home games is 2015. There's seemingly no way around that.A home game and revenue from beer sales brings in a little more than $2 million. If WVU can secure a seven-game home schedule in a future year where just six are scheduled, it would help address some debt and pay a number of bills, none greater or growing faster than coaching salaries.

The Mountaineers agreed to a $500,000 buyout to settle its series with the Seminoles. WVU receives only a fraction of Big 12 revenue the next three seasons and then has to pay back $1 million the following five years to level a loan.

Add to that whatever additions or modifications WVU plans to make to its football stadium or other facilities as it moves into the Big 12 and there is a need for money.

The school has found some opportunities in lieu of home games. The game against the FCS's James Madison at FedEx Field in September guarantees $2.3 million and could pay $200,000 more with a ticket sales incentive. The Kickoff Game projects a $3.1 million payout to teams involved in the 2012 doubleheader. WVU's game against BYU in 2016 at FedEx Field guarantees $2.45 million with another $200,000 ticket sales incentive.

Still, in 2013 and 2015, WVU plays just four Big 12 home games (Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Iowa State). In 2013, the Mountaineers are scheduled to play the FCS's William & Mary and ECU at home.

The road games are against the remaining five Big 12 teams and against Maryland in Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium.

In 2014, WVU has five Big 12 home games (Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Kansas) and plays host to Towson. The Alabama game bumps the ECU road game and WVU again plays Maryland away from home, this time in College Park, Md.

The Mountaineers play host to Maryland in 2015 and 2016 and could try to get a seventh home game in 2014 by trading a future date, but it doesn't really accomplish anything.

Making the switch with the 2015 game gives WVU seven home games in 2014, but leaves six homes games in 2015 (four Big 12 games, the FCS's Liberty and ECU). Making the switch in 2016 leaves WVU without a non-conference home game. There is no FCS opponent because WVU is playing BYU instead.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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