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Oliver Luck revealed to ESPN he sought to orchestrate a Big East merger with less-powerful Big 12 schools during the realignment swirl of September 2011.


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Oliver Luck told ESPN his Big 12 band of brothers are giving zero thought to expansion, essentially crushing (for now) the hopes of BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall, who said last week “I would love to be a member of that conference.”

Yet Luck’s assertion that we’re-a-happy-10-team-family wasn’t the newsiest peg of that story. More striking was his revelation of trying to arrange a marriage between the fading Big East and the Big 12 left-behinds during the high-angst realignment swirl of 2011.

“My favorite story that hasn’t been written,” Luck told ESPN.

Unwritten until Wednesday.

That’s when he recounted how “the Big East was a mess” after Syracuse and Pittsburgh planned their tandem leap into the ACC, a move the transpired the same week as Luck said Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State “were playing footsie” with Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott.

With two clusters of schools fretting daily about their conference affiliations and future viability, Luck hatched a lifeline plan to bring them all together. He phoned up Baylor athletics director Ian McCaw, Kansas’ Sheahon Zenger, Kansas State’s John Currie and Iowa State’s Jamie Pollard—a high-stakes telemarketing scheme of desperation that required a quick pitch and some quick introductions.

“I didn’t know those guys from Adam,” Luck admitted.

At the time, Luck was only 14 months into his post at West Virginia, and curiously he started discussions without notifying then-Big East commissioner John Marinatto. (Perhaps that was a show of declining respect for the commish who would be forced out in March 2012, but Luck was understandably antsy about going through Marinatto after failed attempts to get West Virginia into the SEC and ACC.)

Luck’s layout for the 12-team post-apocalypse Big East involved a West Division featuring Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, TCU and Louisville, and an East Division of UConn, Cincinnati, Rutgers, West Virginia, South Florida and Central Florida.

That setup, while workable, would have constituted the weakest of the major conferences. And it would have sustained further erosion once Rutgers received a Big Ten invite and Louisville headed to the ACC.

Fortunately for West Virginia, the doomsday option became moot once the Longhorns and Sooners committed to remaining in the Big 12. Within a month, that league had opened its arms to the Mountaineers and TCU.

At only 10 teams, the Big 12 is the smallest of the power five conferences, potentially dinging its perception nationwide and, under current NCAA rules, preventing the staging of a football championship game.

Yet the league also is lean and mean with regard to revenue, with a higher per-school take than the 14-team SEC. While that is expected to change once the SEC Network launches this summer, Luck said Big 12 ADs are so satisfied with payouts and “expansion is one thing we’re not talking about.”

Well, at least not publicly.

Rushing to add two teams for addition’s sake would be foolish and cost-prohibitive, but so would closing off the idea of continued exploration. College sports haven’t forever lost the realignment groove and settled into a cozy holding pattern—the same motivators that had Luck frantically calling Waco and Ames three years ago continue to perpetuate.

Luck told ESPN there are no “available teams” that would add enough to the conference pie to justify membership. That’s not wholly accurate, because BYU undeniably would.

The Cougars arguably would represent the league’s No. 3 most recognizable football brand (behind UT and Oklahoma) and their 2013 home attendance of 61,225 would have ranked third in the Big 12. Their final basketball RPI of 37 would have been fifth in the conference, ahead of Texas, K-State and Oklahoma State.

Yet, as I wrote previously, the prospect of Big 12 expansion requires adding two teams, not one. So the biggest obstacle to BYU coming aboard is finding a suitable plus-one. Not even UConn, reveling in its fourth basketball national title, seems to make financial sense. Neither does Boise State, Cincinnati, SMU or Houston.

Big 12 sources have said BYU’s religious aversion to playing on Sundays makes the Cougars a difficult partner, yet that doesn’t impact football and rarely matters in hoops. It’s primarily a scheduling headache for non-revenue Olympic sports, whose welfare wasn’t considered anyway when the conference carousel began.

The league may someday rue its reluctance to add Louisville and BYU as teams No. 11 and 12, but for now there’s a cheery air around the 10-team family. At least until further prompting.

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  • ShinnstonGuy

    Based on everything I have heard from the school, they are miserable that they don't have a conference member on the East Coast. Most of WVU's alums are located on there and now they don't get any regular basketball or football games to attend. It is driving the Alumni Association nuts!

    • GoEers

      Shinnston guy who are your sources? When I went to Austin, TX 2 years ago, I spent 3 days with about 15k of my fellow alums. I really didn't hear anyone complain.

      Please tell me who you talked to at the school who claimed they were miserable.

    • Capt. Obvious

      Those people should count their blessings that we ended up where we did instead of the AAC.

      • Rick S.

        Those people probably do not consider it a blessing that they are now unable to attend a WVU game unless they make the long trip to Morgantown.

        I understand why the conference switch happened. It is just unfortunate that so many alumni and WVU fans have been disconnected from their university.

  • Holgie

    In my humble opinion, the idea of the Big 12 not wanting to expand at this point is a joke.
    When the Power schools decide it's time to break away from the NCAA, we will be left begging for a spot in the new alignment.
    That day is coming sooner than you think.

    • GoEers

      Holgie--if the power schools break away from the NCAA they will do it along with their respective conference. I know this might upset you, but WVU is one of those power schools in those power conferences thanks to Oliver Luck's move to get WVU in the big 12.

    • J the C

      We already have a spot, thanks to Oliver.

      • David

        Not if the Big 12 is destroyed like the Big East. The Big 12 only has 5% of the TV audience.

        Last year WVU vs Oklahoma was about 3.5 M viewers. But Alabama vs Texas A&M had 13.5 M. If you were a TV network which game would you prefer to be asking advertisers to pay you to show their commercials?

        • Diaspora

          None of us would be talking about any of this had Ed Pastilong gotten his way. Like him or not, Luck was the right man at the right time. He may not be what we want or need long term. But we are in a power conference and are NOT talking about what is going to happen when the bigs leave the NCAA, because we are going with them.

          We can not live mearly for today folks. You have to be making strategic moves ahead of the big power play anticipated to come. I don't want to keep harping on this, but is was Pastilong that for decades settled for mediocrity. Hard work in the late 80s and early 90s could of had us in a situation better suited for us regionally. But none of that ever took place. The right fit would have been the ACC, and I believe that could have been secured with the right strategic moves decades ago. The B12 was the best that remained, and it's a good conference. Luck saved our rear ends with that deal.

  • cutty77

    Oliver had the vision to do this. This move is the single most important event that has ever happened in WVU History.

    • patchy

      Why thank you Mr Luck. But why not post under your own name?

      The single most important event? You win the Lack Of Perspective Award and the Hype Award - an impressive double.

      Never mind about Jerry West, Don Nehlen, New Mountaineer Field, Major Harris or the Final Four - they are insignificant compared to road trips to Ames, IA and Stillwater, OK!

      • cutty77

        If i was Oliver Luck, i sure as heck wouldn't be on this website. But Thanks for compliment. Yes we have to make a few Road trips to get soon to be 25 mill. dollor checks. Combine Major,Don,Montaineer Field,and Jerry West won't come close to 25 mill a year.Thats a big problem with some people on here,you keep living in the past. There is no Future in The Past.

        • Patchy

          You seem to have difficulty recognizing sarcasm. Keep at it and one day you'll make your tutor proud.

          Your post is timestamped 10:14 am - have you already forgotten what you typed?

          It was YOU that claimed the conference move was 'the most important event in WVU history.' History, by definition, involves previously-occurring events. Comparing the significance of these events is not 'living in the past,' it is merely an evaluation.

          Moreover, praising one single event without the context of history is nonsensical and shortsighted. Would WVU be a desirable conference addition without the efforts and success of their programs, coaches, players, support staff, etc.? Did McDonald's and Walmart start with thousands of locations and their current market valuation or did they start with one and a very modest budget?

          The Gestalt aspects of this seem beyond you so I'll leave you to fantasize about those '25 mill dollor [sic] checks.' In fact, find a nice, quiet, uninhabited area where you can stretch out and relax - I recommend Mountaineer Field on Saturdays in October and November. With season ticket sales cratering it should be very tranquil indeed.

          • scott

            you talk purty......

          • cutty77

            Let me leave you with this Old Great One Patchy. Vision according Webster's Dictionary is stated this way.Power of seeing,something seen in a dream or trance etc. Mental image,foresight. Cutty is over and over on this one.

  • richard

    Luck did the right thing in getting us in the Big 12. no matter what some of these people say. travel and all the other things considered----he did the right thing!

    • Aaron

      I read somewhere two years ago when WVU was beginning their initial season in the Big 12 that while travel would increase, it would not be as bad as many fans believed for the teams that use charter flights with the average flight time increasing by half an hour or so.

      The teams who suffer are those required to fly commercial, which have to take connection flights but then that was the case in the Big East as well. Most would bus to Clarksburg, fly a connector flight to DC, Detroit, Charlotte or Philly and then another connection flight to their destination of Syracuse, Boston, Miami, or the other schools. I know a basketball player from years ago who said he would rather fly to California than ride the bus to Blacksburg. In today's sports world, travel is a wash as everyone does it.

      • Beaver Sniffer

        About two years ago, I read somewhere that in a land far, far away light travel was possible. Some fans of this new technology believed that travel time would decrease to only two minutes from one galaxy to another but the reality was it took about three minutes.

        The people who suffered were those required to fly via old style Apollo type craft as described in The Beatles song, Major Tom. The connections were really bad and I mean really bad to some people had to fly from U'r Anus...ah, I mean, Uranus via Chuck Yeager airport and this made them very sad.

        I know an astronaut from years ago, I everyone reading this knows who I'm talking about, who said he would rather fly from Ames, IA to Pluto than ride a bus from the same two points. In today's world, everyone washes as they travel, just not in the same shower as everyone else does, uh, wash out, I mean does what they do while washing in a black tub, oh, you all know what I mean.

        • Ryan

          Dude, very funny. Air Head thinks he owns this site and is the All Knowing, All Powerful Oz. Wish I had your wit.

        • Aaron

          I read where Chick Yeager said that about Pluto too beaver beaver.

      • WVU1

        The travel suffering occurs for the fan. It's much less impactful on the team.

  • Patchy

    Joe Paterno did Penn State no favors in the Sandusky scandal but years before that he snobbishly resisted any talk of conference affiliation with WVU, Pitt, Syracuse et al even when he was offered a sweetheart deal in terms of media revenue. Penn State and the Big 10 were always a mismatch just as WVU/Big 12 and Pitt/ACC are. Three huge SEC-style intrastate/border rivalry games per year among WVU-PSU-Pitt would have been huge TV properties and the crown jewel of a (North)Eastern conference.

    The traditional, now-chaotic NCAA/conference model is about to be euthanized in the courts or simply die of old age. The breakaway NFL-style league - most likely 64 big-time programs with 4 regions, 16 teams per region, 8 teams per division - is inevitable. Whatever its faults, it will apply some common sense where regional matchups are concerned and will overcome artificial and arbitrary conference barriers to entry.

    • GregG

      DO WHAT?! That sure isn't the way I remember things.

    • Aaron

      Joe Paterno applied for membership to the Big East in the early 80's and tried to get Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Temple, Maryland, Syracuse, Rutgers and Boston College to form an Eastern Football Conference to "to market exclusive television deals and offer revenue sharing between members, as well as make scheduling a little less cumbersome by instituting a number of set games between schools that were largely already playing each other anyway."

      • LongingForTheGoodOldDays

        Even though it is now a moot point the schools that did the most harm to that unsuccessful eastern all sports conference were Pitt and Syracuse. When they went into the Big East for basketball that dream was over. Penn State applied to join the Big East but was denied. When the BIG10 came calling in 1990 can you blame them? Years later who destroyed the Big East - Pitt and Syracuse when they jumped to the ACC. Just my humble opinion.

        • David

          Isn't it interesting that the AD from Pitt was the Chairman of the Big East committee that turned down the new ESPN contract offer? And a few weeks later he announced Pitt was going to the ACC.

          Have to wonder did he act as an agent of the ACC during his role of Big East committee chairman? Kind of like the AD at Boston College saying (1) ESPN told the ACC which schools to invite from the Big East and (2) due to his hatred of UCON he would make sure they were never invited to the ACC.

  • David Kennedy

    Of course the Invisible Elephant in the room is Notre Dame.
    Bring both Notre Dame and BYU in to this conference and watch the really big money flow into the bank.
    Do not ever discount Oliver Luck's ability to make serious things happen.
    He has a magic touch...

    • ViennaGuy

      Notre Dame, or at least its football program, is too stuck in the past(and too stuck on itself) to join a conference.

    • Aaron

      Unfortunately, Notre Dame is not going to go anywhere until the Power Conferences force them to and with the ACC allowing them in all sports save football, that's not happening anytime soon.

  • Brandon

    Why didn't you just post a link to the ESPN story instead of copying and pasting their article?

    • WVUfan1970

      Hey, Brandon, why not comment on the ESPN article instead of making snide comments here? ... BTW, I looked at several other national sites that DID lift the ESPN article as a blurb—at least Mr. Taylor added insight, commentary and context and provided discussion points. I'm a longtime Mountaineer and I typically appreciate the points this writer raises, even when I disagree with them. HailWV!

  • John

    The proposed conference Luck mentioned would have been a much better fit geographically for WVU but not so much from a revenue standpoint. Plus, as mentioned in the article, Louisville and Rutgers would have left, or by leaving, so WVU would have been in the same boat. There was no way that proposed conference would have the strength to keep those two schools from leaving.

    Soon enough there will be 4 power conferences with 16 teams each and those schools will dominate the college sports landscape even more than they do today. I hate the ACC and SEC looked over WVU because of its academics. If they understood the land grant rules WVU has to abide by, perhaps a different decision would have been made.

    • David Elswick

      The original proposal for the current college football playoff was that each of the 4 team must win their conference title game. That option was dropped. But will it come back later?

      In both basketball and football the old Big East was better than the ACC. It was the ACC that kept saying the Big East wasn't a true power conference. While WVU was 3 wins 0 losses in BCS bowl games the entire ACC was 3 wins 13 losses. The ACC was able to carve up the old Big East because the ACC had higher media revenue and the ADs and Presidents of the Big East school kept saying..."look at all this money we are getting from our TV contracts".

      Doesn't that sound exactly like what the Big 12 is doing these days? And if the football playoff is changed to require you win your conference title game + would be Big 12 be destroyed? Wouldn't the Big 12 teams then be willing to vote on folding the Big 12 so the media rights go back to their schools? And - just like when the PAC 10 was going to get 4 teams from the Big 12 - would some Big 12 teams be left with no conference? And would WVU again be left out?

    • rock solid

      @John: Land grant, sky grant not the problem. Research university was the weak link as to why WVU was looked down upon. Remember the ACC members will drown if it rains because their noses are raised so high toward the sky. Wvu is considered a vocational school compared to Duke, North Carolina Miami, by the ACC. Sorry but your doublewide just doesn't cut it in the ACC. I know that what I have said isn't true, but perception becomes the truth if you don't disprove it. Remember WVa. is last in the country in math and reading skills, last in quality of life, and no industry to grow in the future.Don't worry about the border cities like Morgantown and Martinsburg they are fine. The rest of the state is in the crapper. Think you can carry on filling the stadiun with border city residents while the rest of the state is on welfare? Look at Clarksburg now compared to the past. Not even a shadow of itself. Thank God for Oliver Luck but there are some big things even he can't fix.

  • Chris1529

    What is wrong with adding Cincinatti to the Big 12? They seem fairly competitive in most sports, and I think their academics are on par with most div 1 schools. WV needs at least one rival that is within an day's drive, or the fan base physically at games is going to continue to shrink. It has become too easy to just watch on TV.

    • GoEers

      Cincinnati doesn't provide enough revenue to be in the big 12. Why add Cincinnati and then not make 25 million?

    • ViennaGuy

      Agree 100%.

      • Allan Taylor

        Based on 2013 figures, Cincinnati's total athletics revenue ranked 51st overall, above only three power-five members (Ga. Tech, Colorado and Washington State), and only one spot behind Iowa State, and remember the Cyclones benefit from the Big 12's television deal that the Bearcats don't. However, I don't think there's any way ESPN/Fox would renegotiate Big 12 deal for another $25 million annually based on Cincy joining. For BYU it would, because the Cougars already are in the middle of an 8-year deal with ESPN.

    • FungoJoseph

      Bring in the Florida university with the largest student population in that state, the University of Central Florida. Helps recruiting for WVU and helps them keep that Florida footprint in their recruiting. At least in football. Huggins doesn't recruit Florida even though Beilien did.

      • Allan Taylor

        @Fungo: WVU has been recruiting the heck out of Florida for years, so adding UCF to the fold helps that program way more than it benefits WVU or other Big 12 schools, at least from a recruiting standpoint. Now, your point about enrollment—and the potential for sell-outs in Orlando, and adding Florida TV market—is valid. It's just that UCF has virtually no nationwide cache, though you could have said the same for FSU in the mid-70s.

        • cutty77

          Coach Nehlen starting going to Fla. to sign kids many years ago. Doc Hoilday was the man for that Job too.

    • Tom

      Darn good point.

  • TMW

    Off hand. I'm a WVU grad, in MD. now and loving it that we are moving to the BIG in 3 weeks and leaving the ACC behind. What is so ironic to the thousands of WVU grads in this area is how NC and Duke led the fight to keep WV out of the ACC because of their high standards. Anyone read about the fake papers, and special ghost courses at NC lately??

    • pc

      Yeah, and I am sure all those ACC schools recall reading about the academic fraud at WVU concerning the sham MBA program which resulted in a laughable degree for Joe Manchin's daughter ("Heathergate") and the ouster of a political hack of a president at WVU!

  • Judge Jimmy

    Yeah, I would argue that BYU would No. 3 "most recognizable brand" in the B12.

    • Joe


  • Thom

    The truth remains that West Virginia should be in the ACC or the SEC. It is a sad truth that they turned us down because of academic reasons. As a WVU graduate, I will never understand how the schools of either conference are better academically. I sure hope we beat Alabama for a variety of reasons.

  • GoEers

    Typical response from the most jealous Marshall fan alive!

    As William would say, I'm loving it,

  • william

    What a bunch of BS.

    • David Kennedy

      Would you guys from Marshall please stay with Marshall...

      • ViennaGuy

        David, you're giving Marshall too much credit. He needs to crawl back to his P*TT cronies. :-)

    • Pudge

      I think rather than hammering out yet another of the same tired, mindless, posts William does over and over and over he did us a favor of shorting it to "...a bunch of BS."

      I hope to see more of it in the future and I for one appreciate it.

    • GoEers

      Sorry William you are so jealous and envious of wvu's affiliation with the big 12!

      I'm loving it!

    • Dave

      This is how you reply when you really don't get it. LOL @ William.

  • Aaron

    We were told the Big East was often the weakest conference after Miami left but the simple truth is, in only 1 year did the ACC rank higher and in 4 years, the Big East was the 4th best conference.

    To say the remaining schools would have constituted the weakest conference is speculation at best but the bottom line is, that conference would have still been given a seat at the Big Boys table and in reality, with the division that Luck mentioned, in reality, would have been a much better fit than WVU in the Big 12.

    Personally I believe the Pac 12 should have swallowed their collective pride and taken the 4 schools as they currently fight with the ACC as the worst top to bottom football conference and in basketball they are the worst of the Power 5 Conferences.