AT LUNCHTIME, I wandered downtown here in Charleston and saw an older gentleman.He wore a WVU baseball cap. He wore an old Steve Slaton jersey.I couldn't help but consider how many Mountaineer fans will be affected if West Virginia is left out of the national conference power grab.News hit on Thursday that TCU was spurning the Big East, WVU's conference, for the Big 12. West Virginia is still without a stable home.And know there are indications the Mountaineers might remain without a stable home.When the TCU news surfaced, calls were placed. Those within the WVU circle assured that work was being done across the Morgantown campus to find a new football home. University president Jim Clements has been calling presidents of schools in the power leagues. Athletic director Oliver Luck has been burning the phone lines to other athletic directors.But I was told the Atlantic Coast Conference, for instance, has 10 schools trying to gain admittance. Word is, if Missouri leaves the Big 12, the next in line would be Louisville, not WVU. The Southeastern Conference can have its pick.Basically, what WVU officials have been getting is, "We respect your program. If we get to that point, you deserve consideration." (Sprinkle in yada, yada, yada wherever you see fit.)Understand, West Virginia isn't alone. All of the schools - Louisville, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Rutgers, South Florida, etc. - without stable football futures are making calls.Yes, WVU has a better football program than all in that paragraph. But Mountaineer officials are being told - to this point - West Virginia is a strong second or third candidate. And the fact is, those power conferences may never get to the second or third candidate."It's one of the most disappointing things I've seen in 35 years in the game to see this [Big East] thing break up like this," Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino told the New York Times. "We've stayed loyal to it all along. We've stayed loyal, and by staying loyal we're not sure what's going to happen to us."
No leftover Big East football school, however, has an attachment to its fans like West Virginia. None.It is a maypole around which state residents gather. And connect. And obsess.Fans of Rutgers, Cincinnati, South Florida and Connecticut also have area NFL teams to follow. Louisville has its horse racing. USF has its beaches. Connecticut has symphonies and black-tie affairs.Most West Virginians have their Mountaineers.
I hear you. There are rumors about 48-hour windows and the SEC and financial plans and ...
And West Virginia is still in the Big East.Hopefully, for WVU, for its fans, a perfect storm arises. Right now, however, there is but a light mist. Officials at the school might be forced to make the best of a bad situation.The best might be a patched-up version of the worst BCS football conference. If, that is, the Big East survives as a BCS conference.The most ghastly scenario for WVU? Rutgers and Connecticut are admitted to the ACC and Louisville moves to the Big 12. That leaves football schools Cincinnati, South Florida and West Virginia. Period. (The good news? They could split all those exit fees. The bad? Eight teams are needed to constitute a conference.)If perchance all six of the above remain after the picking season, the Big East could add teams like Air Force, Navy, Temple, Central Florida and East Carolina. Keep in mind, though, the Mountain West and Conference USA have been advancing the idea of a combined football setup. That might be more attractive than a crippled Big East, especially if the league is stripped of its BCS berth.
Have WVU officials considered independent status? Yes, but then there would be no conference income. Also, scheduling football games would be a nightmare. Most of the expanding power conferences will move to nine league games, leaving only three openings for non-conference matchups. Why take on a dangerous WVU team in addition to nine SEC, etc., teams?West Virginia already has a scheduling problem for next year with TCU bailing.So don't count on the independent route. Yes, WVU was an independent for years before the Big East. But ditto almost every school in the Northeast. Scheduling wasn't a problem.Instead, count on WVU doing its best within what's left of the Big East. There are the exit fees to consider. There's the minimal television money. There are the NCAA basketball money units earned via league teams in the tournament. There's basketball.Is there an outside shot WVU can still land within one of the power conferences? Yes. Mountaineer fans just shouldn't get cozy with the idea. The West Virginia athletic department is sweating. The vibes coming from the athletic department aren't good.If West Virginia, though, doesn't land safely, it will be a shame. It will be a shame for the man in the Slaton jersey. It will be a shame for all like him, the WVU fans who live and breathe Mountaineer football.These hills, which sometimes aren't alive with the sound of music, but, rather, Tony Caridi's voice calling games, wouldn't be the same if WVU is left standing. Not after the school fought and scratched to become a Top 25 program. Not after its proud fans experienced the sweet taste of BCS victories and lofty final rankings.It would be a shame if, after all that, the Little Program That Could simply can't.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.