Recently, Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports released a list in honor of the five year anniversary of the beginning of the serious shift in conference realignment in college sports. His list consisted of the top five biggest winners and losers from the landscape shift in college football. He included West Virginia in his list of biggest losers at number three only behind the Cincinnati, Connecticut combination and BYU. He also had West Virginia ahead of losers like Boise State and Idaho. I could not disagree more with his assessment. In this article, I will tell you his points and tell you why I do not feel the same.
Mandel’s first reasoning was that “the Mountaineers, which went to three BCS Bowls their last six years in the Big East, have gone 16-18 in four seasons of Big 12 play.” This is a fair point. The competition in the Big 12 has far exceeded anything the Big East had previously served up to WVU and that WVU’s ability to go to big bowl games has greatly diminished. However, I do not see this as just a bad thing. I agree that it was fun to watch the Mountaineers go to bowl games and surprise people, but even Mountaineer fans have to agree that sometimes WVU did not deserve to be in the ranks of the best, even if they made a big showing. An example would be the 2012 Orange Bowl where WVU trounced Clemson 70-33. In that situation, the Mountaineers were not worthy of a BCS bowl, they had just won a lame Big East. I enjoy WVU playing against top schools almost every week and really testing themselves. Granted, it has not gotten off to the greatest of starts. But it does seem to be improving and for many reasons the number of wins should continue to increase.
Mandel goes on to say that WVU has “a clunky marriage with the Big 12, where it’s nowhere near any of the other members.” This is unfortunate. There is no denying that WVU is geographically an outcast from the Big 12, but this is not a complete disadvantage. Although, it is unfavorable, the distance does provide a significant home field advantage for the Mountaineers. Not only does a team have to face the unruly and passionate fan base of West Virginia they also must contend with a long journey ahead of the game. Of course, it’s not easy for West Virginia to make that same long journey on road games, but that door swings both ways. Mandel also brought up that the SEC and ACC would have been better options for WVU. To that point, you will find no disagreements here. The only thing I will say is that there was no choice for the Mountaineers (I do not think that Mandel is necessarily implying that there was).
The last point Mandel brings up is that WVU does not have “the same recruiting benefit of having the state of Texas in its backyard.” I have a problem with that. Recruiting is one area of WVU’s move to the Big 12 that I see as an improvement for the Mountaineers. He’s right that the state of Texas is not in WVU’s backyard, but the state of Texas is more accessible to West Virginia now because of their move to the Big 12. If WVU would have moved to the ACC or SEC, I do not believe the Mountaineers would have had much success recruiting the Lone Star State. This gives WVU access to recruits who want the Big 12 experience but do not necessarily want to go to Texas or Oklahoma or even Baylor. Additionally, WVU still can have a foothold on markets like Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that they had from the Big East. That’s an advantage the rest of the Big 12 does not have.
I understand Mandel’s points but there is no way that WVU is worse off than some of the teams who are not in a Power 5 Conference at all like Boise State, Idaho, or New Mexico State. WVU has not seen the full fruits of their labor yet, but I believe they will in time as their foothold in the Big 12 continues to resonate with recruits. There have certainly been some rough times during the transition, but think of it this way: that lifeboat looks pretty comfortable compared to the sinking ocean liner you left behind.
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