MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Years of relative calm on the college conference realignment front ended sharply last month when Oklahoma and Texas officially declared their intentions to join the Southeastern Conference.
The move, whenever it will ultimately be finalized, would leave the Big 12 Conference with just eight members and questionable viability as a ‘Power 5’ league. WVU President E. Gordon Gee does not anticipate that continued and seismic changes will happen quickly.
“We’ll continue to play in the Big 12 for a number of years here,” Gee said on Thursday’s edition of MetroNews Talkline. “We own the media rights to Texas and Oklahoma and they are ironclad. Once they leave they’ll have to pay the league at least $160 to $200 million. But they have no real opportunity to leave for the next three or four years unless we decide that is in their best interest and we come to some accommodation, which is probably not going to happen at least in the next two or three years.”
None of the remaining eight Big 12 schools have publicly offered any clues about their plans to stay and help build the Big 12 back up or to seek a home elsewhere. Gee expressed confidence that West Virginia University will be well-positioned regardless of what other moves in and around the Big 12 may happen.
“When that announcement was made, everyone went catatonic. And I understand that. But once the smoke has cleared and the world is a little clearer, we have lots of options. One of those options will be best for us and we will take that one.
“I am very confident that there is going to be a lot of music played. There will be a lot of chairs moving the next couple years. I am very confident West Virginia will occupy one of those chairs. We are following a number of tracks.”
The Big 12 opened talks with the Pac 12 Conference on a possible scheduling alliance, but it is impossible to predict how many schools nationwide may soon be on the move. Gee believes the Big 12 will withstand the defections of Oklahoma and Texas.
“Right now, I do not believe the Big 12 will crumble. We are fierce members of that. We have a huge stake in their success. Second of all, the parallel path is to take a look and see whether we as a league create a ‘mega-league’, whether we join another conference, whether we add more schools. I can make a living off all the telephone calls I have been having over a short period of time from other university presidents wanting to know what I think and what the possibilities are.”
Gee pointed to the continued success of WVU’s basketball and women’s soccer programs and the elevated recruiting profile of the football program as reasons that the Mountaineers will remain a nationally-prominent program regardless of what lies ahead.
“We can compete with anyone. That makes us very competitive in terms of conference alignment and realignment.”
“But right now, what I tell our football coach and our basketball coaches, ‘You have one job, not to worry about conference realignment. You have one job, which is to beat Oklahoma and Texas every time you see them’.”