MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In the past, West Virginia has found itself at the forefront of conference realignment.
In 2011, WVU escaped the doomed Big East and joined the Big 12. Two years ago, the Big 12’s status as a power conference – and WVU’s stability as a power program – looked to be in jeopardy with the departures of Texas and Oklahoma.
Though athletics director Wren Baker was not affiliated with WVU for either of those occurrences, he’s happy to be on the sidelines of the most recent round of realignment.
“I’m very happy for WVU because there seems to be some kind of consolidation around how many schools there [are] going to be, and how many power conferences there [are] going to be, and we’re positioned very, very well,” Baker said. “And there [have] been times in our history – most of the times in our history – where that wasn’t necessarily the case.”
Back in July, Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark made it clear that he was happy with either a 12-or-14-team conference layout, and the conference would examine further expansion down the road. Later that month, Colorado jumped ship from the Pac-12 with plans to rejoin the Big 12 in 2024. Shortly after, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah followed at the beginning of August.
“Our group was pretty aligned in if we could get the four-corner schools,” Baker said. “That made the most sense for the future of the league and we should be patient and see if there’s an opportunity to do that.”
Television deals and their subsequent payouts to member schools are the impetuses for schools switching conferences, and the Big 12 will add the Denver, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Tucson TV markets to its slate. Three of the new markets are top-30 in size.
The fandom in those regions matches the makeup of current Big 12 members, according to Baker.
“You look at the markets we picked up – and not just the market, but the penetration in those markets – I think we’re positioned very well for the future,” he said.
The biggest critique of conference expansion is the potential for increased travel – and by association, decreased studying and resting – for student-athletes. The football team will be able to accommodate itself in order to best put itself in a position for a playoff spot, but Baker thinks there are plenty of decisions to be made about the other sports and their scheduling.
“I believe there is a way for us to come together as a conference and look at scheduling that doesn’t send track teams, soccer teams [and] volleyball teams all the way to Utah to play every year,” Baker said.
With 16 teams that can be split into two divisions or four regional pods, there is also hope that the expanded conference could help eliminate excess travel by creating region-based scheduling. Many sports will not play 16 conference games, so in theory, teams could limit their opponents to those in their region or division.
Baker is happy to work through the logistical problems of an expanded conference, though. In this scenario, his school is safe.
“I think we’re a big winner in this round of conference realignment,” he said.