YOU COULD almost hear the collective sigh of relief from West Virginia University fans following the announcement of a settlement with the Big East.All is clear for the Mountaineers to join the Big 12 next season. The legal wrangling is over. It's all good for WVU, right?Uh, no.It's more than good.
Everyone understands there are costs involved with the jump. To start with, there are $20 million of them. At the end of this year, WVU athletic officials will have to make up an $11.5 million shortfall. (See story 1-A.)There is the besmirching of the university name. "West Virginia's departure from the Big East leaves Rutgers with scheduling questions," was one of a series of headlines across the Eastern seaboard. Schools from Syracuse to South Florida and Florida State aren't exactly sweet on WVU for leaving scheduling holes at this late date.The reception at today's WVU hoops game in Pittsburgh will be particularly interesting. A headline in the Steel City explained there are two holes in the Panthers' 2012 football schedule.Also, there will undoubtedly be an increase in Mountaineer season-ticket prices this season. (When asked about the subject, West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck said Wednesday he had no comment "at this time.")WVU, though, desperately needed to leave the Big East. And the settlement with the league again illustrates that point.If you happened to peruse the settlement, you might have stumbled upon an odd paragraph under the heading of "Effect of Withdrawal" and the subhead of "Additional Games."Says it:"Upon request within a reasonable period of time following the Effective Date, WVU shall use its reasonable best efforts to help the Big East members to schedule additional football games for the 2012-13 season. In the event that either the University of Pittsburgh or Syracuse University makes such request on or before February 15, 2012, WVU will use its reasonable best effort to assist the University of Pittsburgh or Syracuse University to schedule a game with a Big 12 member for the 2012-13 season if possible."It goes on to say that "if another school announces that it is joining the Big East for football for the 2012-13 season, then WVU shall not be required to take any such reasonable steps to help the University of Pittsburgh or Syracuse University."Allow me to give my reasonable best effort to cut through that. The Big East is again on defense.Consider it. Is it not odd that of the seven current Big East members, the two schools highlighted in the passage are the two heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference? Why?
One insider close to the negotiations suggested it was simply because Pitt and Syracuse were having a harder time than the other five finding replacements for WVU on their football schedules.But there has to be more to it. First, refer to the aforementioned headline concerning Rutgers in the Newark Star-Ledger. Another from Tampa Bay Online read, "USF must fill date after WVU-Big East settlement."In other words, all the remaining Big East schools seem to be scrambling. So why point to Pitt and Syracuse?Answer: the league is apparently trying to cover its behind. Again.Imagine that. The Big East being reactive instead of proactive.The conference could not keep West Virginia from leaving. So it made sure a judgment was entered into the Monongalia County lawsuit dismissal saying the conference bylaws are valid and enforceable.
Then there was the "Additional Games" paragraph. The one that screams, "Hey, Pitt and Syracuse, see, we're trying to help you get games! Please don't leave before the 27-month withdrawal period by saying we're not a viable conference!"It feeds into the criticism of the league that dates back to when Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College bolted for the ACC. Rather than be proactive, not much happens in Providence until the proverbial horse, cow or, in this case, Mountaineer leaves the barn.Rather than strengthen the league before Pitt, Syracuse and West Virginia announced their intentions to leave, commissioner John Marinatto allowed the conference's football side to be cannibalized.Now, the Big East is the old Conference USA. It will have a bizarre mix with Boise State, San Diego State, SMU, Houston and Central Florida joining.The kicker? The Big 12 could, if it wishes, further cannibalize the Big East. It could swipe Louisville or Cincinnati or Boise State.And, if it chooses to do so, history shows the Big East will wait until after the fact to make a move.It is reactive. The settlement once again illustrates that.Which is why the proactive stance by WVU will pay dividends, despite whatever steep costs.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.