It was pretty easy to read between the lines of WVU Athletic Director Shane Lyons’ official statement released late on Monday evening.
You just had to read between the second and fourth paragraphs.
That was my takeaway anyway.
Earlier in the day, Lyons made his first public statement about Oklahoma, Texas and conference realignment in an appearance on the radio show I share with Brandon Lowe. As could be expected, he didn’t say much and didn’t go into particulars.
I expected it. You should’ve too. You didn’t think he was going to come out and say that the university is actively seeking membership in other leagues, did you?
But Lyons is obviously a smart guy with supreme people skills; you just don’t get to where he is without both of those things. At first glance, his official statement seemed like little more than a lengthier continuation of what he said on our show. Both his initial quote and the official statement can be found on the Gazette-Mail’s website.
However, I dug a little deeper late last night and again this morning. Three paragraphs deep, in fact. And I was caught by a particular section.
This one right here:
“WVU is proud to be a proven academic leader ranking at the highest level of research activity in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. In fact, we are among a select few that are land-grant, doctoral research universities with a comprehensive medical school. The University’s faculty are increasingly recognized for excellence, and our legacy of student achievement includes 25 Rhodes Scholars, 25 Truman Scholars, 46 Goldwater Scholars.”
Rewind to the last round of conference realignment a decade ago. Remember when WVU was up for membership in the ACC and was rejected? Remember why?
Yeah, academic concerns.
In the days since the initial reports of the departure of Oklahoma and Texas from the Big 12 emerged last week, the keyboard warriors have been busy. Rumors, real reports, fake reports, fan concerns, they’ve all blended together in a cacophony of words in posts of 280 characters or less.
For my own sanity, I’ve chosen to stay away as much as possible.
But you don’t have to live on Twitter to know that should the dominoes continue to fall — and they most likely will — that, geographically speaking, the ACC is again an attractive landing spot for WVU. That’s long been a thought of the fan base, a large portion of which remembers all of the classic battles with the likes of Virginia Tech, Pitt, Syracuse, Boston College and Miami, to name a few.
Currently, the ACC is at 14 members. Ditto the Big Ten. With the assumed future additions of Texas and Oklahoma, the SEC will move to 16.
Let’s be honest: At its core, this is all just an arms race and the SEC just acquired two .50 calibers. There’s no way the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 are going to just stand pat.
I hesitate to speculate on where all of this puts WVU. There are just so many factors that are going to be involved in all of this, and there are way too many possibilities to begin to narrow them down. I mean, when this all started the last time, who had West Virginia ending up in the Big 12? You can put your raised-hand emojis away, because nobody did.
Some might say the ball is in the Big Ten’s court. Others would say the Pac-12 or the ACC or even the SEC. Who said 16 is the be-all end-all? What if the SEC just lands a flying elbow and scoops up a couple of more powers? Clemson? Florida State? Miami? Think they wouldn’t at least answer the phone and listen?
I’ve largely stayed away from issuing any opinion on all of this, as it’s just too early to begin to form one, in my estimation, but here is one for you: What happens next isn’t up to those leagues, at least not right now.
It starts with the eight remaining teams in the Big 12. How deep does their loyalty actually go with each other? Because there are options for them. Send out invitations to Cincinnati, UCF, Houston, BYU, Boise State and/or Memphis or some combination of them, and tell me, should they accept, that’s still not a viable league. In football, in basketball, in anything.
And really, of the eight, much of this likely hinges on West Virginia, the unquestioned geographical outlier. Is the cost of travel still doable with the loss of revenue brought to the Big 12 by Oklahoma and Texas? I don’t know, I don’t have my finger on the financial particulars of the university.
But you can bet Lyons does. And while his statement did include a sentence that begins with, “We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Big 12,” it ended with “and across the country to navigate this new terrain.”
Look, Lyons and WVU President Gordon Gee and the rest of the brass in Morgantown are going to try and get West Virginia in the best spot possible, both financially and competitively. And instead of pounding the refresh button on social media, perhaps it’s time we all sit back and let them do their jobs. What other choice do you have besides voluntarily driving yourself into insanity?
Lyons and other ADs around the country are doing their best Bob Barker impressions, trying to guide their institutions to wherever the price is right.
And at the end of the day, as a fan, what else could you ask for?