PERHAPS THE No. 1 wish for all following or involved in the national conference realignment story is for it to end.For those making moves to move. For certainty to replace uncertainty.Perhaps soon that wish will be granted.Today, we might know for sure the fate of Missouri, which could move from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference. All indications are the Tigers will be moving. That will probably slam the door on any hopes West Virginia had of filling the SEC opening.All attention will then turn to the Big 12 - and, in these parts, its interest in WVU.According to a blog post from Mark Blaudschun of the Boston Globe on Thursday, Missouri will indeed leave the Big 12, and "according to sources in the Big 12, the target team to replace the Tigers is West Virginia."According to sources in the Big 12 and Big East," Blaudschun continued, "the Big 12 expansion will hold at 10 teams for the time being."When reached by the Gazette on Friday, WVU athletic director Oliver Luck would not comment on the report.Would it make sense? Yes. Is it etched in stone? No.
nnOK, so in recent months we've examined West Virginia University's position within the realignment shift.We've awaited answers. Hopefully, those answers are near.Until all are in, however, here's a little something to chew on. While geographically WVU should be moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference or SEC (if not remaining in the Big East), the Big 12 isn't a bad fit on many levels.According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, West Virginia's athletic budget in 2009-10 was $56,607,917.Within the Big East, that placed the Mountaineers fourth, if you count Notre Dame (not a football member) at $76 million. Louisville ($61 million) and Connecticut ($58 million) are the only other ones to have larger budgets than WVU.
WVU spokesman Mike Fragale confirmed the number."We always range from $56 million to $60 million," Fragale said. "That's usually what we need [in grand total expenses]. I've never heard it over $60 million."Will it grow to over $60 million? Perhaps, but that's the highest it's ever been. We've gotten a lot of bang for our buck."If you've ever wondered, though, how far that buck would stretch in the other discussed conferences, here are answers.Within the SEC, West Virginia's budget would rank 10th of the 13 or, if you want to jump and include Missouri, 14 schools.WVU actually had a higher budget than Mizzou ($53.2 million) for 2009-10. Ditto WVU versus Vanderbilt ($46 million), Mississippi ($44 million) and Mississippi State ($36 million).But the list of SEC schools with higher budgets than the Mountaineers is long: Florida ($105 million), LSU ($102 million), Tennessee ($97 million), Auburn ($90 million), Alabama ($85 million), South Carolina ($78 million), Georgia and Kentucky ($76 million), Arkansas ($71 million) and incoming Texas A&M ($69 million).Within the Big 12, as it is now shaped, WVU would have the fifth largest budget. Make that the sixth if you want to throw Louisville, another potential member, into the mix.Texas, as one might imagine, blows all other Big 12 members out of the water with a $114 million budget. Oklahoma is second at $89 million.Also ahead of, but close to, WVU are Kansas and Oklahoma State, both at $60 million.The Mountaineers top Baylor ($54 million), incoming TCU ($52 million), Iowa State ($47 million), Texas Tech ($43 million) and Kansas State ($41 million).(In case you're curious, the highest athletic budgets overall are at Texas, Florida, Ohio State and LSU. All are over $100 million. WVU ranks No. 41. A surprise? Wisconsin at No. 7 at $90 million.)West Virginia would also be a better fit for the Big 12 in regard to facilities. The Mountaineers' basketball Coliseum stacks up nicely nationwide. The school would have to upgrade facilities for Olympic sports.Remember, though, this conference realignment shift is all about football. So let's compare football stadiums.Within the Southeastern Conference, Milan Puskar Stadium would rank near the bottom if you go by seating capacity. The 60,000-seat arena would top but those at Mississippi State (55,082) and Vanderbilt (39,790).Missouri, that potential new member, has a stadium that holds 71,004. Nine others (including Texas A&M) hold more than that.Two (Tennessee and Alabama) seat over 100,000. Two (Georgia and LSU) seat over 92,000. Four (Florida, Auburn, A&M and South Carolina) seat over 80,000. Arkansas's stadium holds 76,000.WVU's stadium compares much more favorably within the Big 12. There, one stadium (that of Texas) holds over 100,000 and one (Oklahoma) holds over 82,000.The rest are either roughly the same size as Puskar Stadium (Texas Tech at 60,454; Oklahoma State at 60,218), or smaller (Iowa State at 55,000; Kansas State at 50,071; Kansas at 50,071; TCU at 44,008).In sum, a move to the SEC would put WVU into an economic athletic arms race that would be tough to handle. Within the Big 12, the Mountaineers will never rival Texas or Oklahoma financially, but it would be a better fit.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.