High School Football

Gee believes opportunities exist in latest college realignment shuffle

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — One day after the Big 12 Conference announced Brett Yormark as the league’s fifth commissioner, the new boss was presented with his first task for when he officially takes office in early August.

The Big 10 Conference announced that UCLA and USC will join the league in two years. In the 2024-2025 season, the Big 10 will have teams bordering the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. WVU President E. Gordon Gee believes Yormack, who has a wide-ranging executive background with NASCAR, the Brooklyn Nets and the entertainment group Roc Nation, is uniquely equipped to navigate the road ahead.

“We are very happy with our new commissioner because he comes in at exactly the right time. As you know, he probably has the biggest media rolodex in the country,” said Gee on Thursday’s edition of Citynet Statewide Sportsline.

“We wanted to fill the gaps of our athletic directors, who are immensely good, with someone who could bring another dimension. If you are the President at West Virginia University as I am, and this earthquake happens today, you are thinking, ‘Oh my God, did we make a right decision’. Because we’ve got a guy who can immediately swing into action to take advantage of the openings that will exist.”

With the defections of UCLA and USC, schools that reside in the No. 2 media market in the country, the Pac-12 Conference faces an uncertain future.

“The Pac-12 Conference has certainly had challenges in terms of its television rights, et cetera. I think it was not unexpected,” Gee said.

“It opens up a lot of opportunities. We just need to take advantage of those opportunities and think outside our own footprint as to what this may mean for us.”

Gee believes Thursday’s moves will not be the last among major athletic programs in the country.

“I think there will be recombinations. I think that the ‘Power 4’ or ‘Power 5’ will continue to exist but they will exist in different configurations.

“The other thing is the College Football Playoff, which I think is very much a driving force. As you probably know, I am a strong advocate for the 16-team playoff and think that ought to be the direction we should move in.”

Oklahoma and Texas announced their decisions to leave the Big 12 for the SEC nearly a year ago. The Sooners and the Longhorns could remain in the Big 12 for up to three years. The Big 12 added BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. All four are set to join in the 2023-2024 academic year. Gee believes West Virginia fans should be encouraged by how the Big 12 has adapted to recent changes.

“I would tell them to be of good cheer. I think that was the same story when Texas and Oklahoma left. Instead, we actually strengthened. So you lose two marquee names but the Big 12 stacked themselves together. Now I think, given the fact that we have been through that refiners fire, we are in the position to take full advantage of all that is going on.

“The Big 10 and the SEC may continue to do what they are doing. But we are going to be very competitive in that world, I can assure you. In fact, if you can’t tell, I am kind of energized. I keep thinking about, ‘Man, people keep giving us opportunities’. We just need to run with them.”

Gee, who also served as the President at Ohio State University, took a reflective tone when asked about how the rapid increase of money into top-level athletic programs has changed the landscape of college sports.

“I am sort of the senior sitting president in this country right now. I have paid outrageous salaries to basketball coaches and football coaches. What we did is we let the money get ahead of our common sense. That really was the beginning of the NIL [Name, Image, Likeness] issue.

“Blame me for some of the things that have happened. Now we are into the middle of it. We’ve got to get some guardrails.”

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