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Wild and Wonderful

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“Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.” Mark Twain was talking about an 1897 newspaper report when he uttered his famous quote, but I prefer to think he was talking about the West Virginia Mountaineers.

As Pitt and Syracuse head to the ACC—and if a CBS Sportsline report that neither the ACC nor SEC are willing to admit WVU—it's a realistic possibility that the Mountaineers' basketball and football programs are indeed on the verge of a demise.

Yet as the cries of “Hypocrite!” and “Traitor!” echoed throughout the college football landscape in the wake of Pitt and Syracuse jumping off the Big East's sinking ship, the WVU brass remained quiet. Perhaps they, too, were crafting their own move; perhaps they were simply aware that teams have been jumping from one conference to another for decades.

West Virginia is indeed aware of the latter because, well, they did it. I don't recall ethics or loyalty being an issue for the Big East thirty years ago when they snagged Pitt and Villanova—and later WVU themselves—from the Atlantic 10. Where was Penn State's loyalty to the A-10 when the Big 10 called two decades ago?

Arkansas wounded the Southwest Conference when they bolted in 1990; the departures of Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Texas Tech killed the league for good three years later. Georgia Tech and Florida State hopped from the Metro Conference to the ACC in 1978 and 1991, respectively.

So while Notre Dame's Pot-Kettle-Black athletic director Jack Swarbrick cried foul, West Virginia AD Oliver Luck remained focused on his university.

That focus should be on the Southeastern Conference. The Sportsline report aside, WVU is an idea fit in the SEC, which expands from 12 to 13 members when Texas A&M joins next fall.

The Mountaineers fit for any number of reasons: quality athletic programs, fan support, geography. The one disconnect critics point out is the media market, or lack thereof.

WVU, part of the Clarksburg/Fairmont/Morgantown market (bear with me here), is obviously not exactly large. It's 165th in the country – which would make it the smallest in the SEC, a conference full of small markets.

But the SEC, unlike every other Division I conference, isn't about media markets. Before the addition of Texas A&M in Dallas (No. 5 market in the U.S.), the only top 30 media market in the conference was Atlanta – a full 60 miles away from the University of Georgia.

UGA is very much like WVU. If you live in Georgia—unless you graduated from Clemson or Georgia Tech—you are a Bulldogs fan; just like all West Virginia natives—except ones with Marshall diplomas—are Mountaineers. The SEC is filled with small media markets—Oxford, Starkville, Fayetteville, Gainesville—and scores of rabid fans.

So it doesn't matter that the Clarksburg/Fairmont/Morgantown market is 165th because the Mountaineers deliver every television set in the state of West Virginia.

It doesn't matter that Tuscaloosa isn't even in Birmingham, just 40th in market size, or that Auburn depends on the Columbus, GA (128th) and Montgomery, AL (118) markets – it matters that every bumper sticker in the state of Alabama either says “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle.”

West Virginia fits the mold perfectly. The atmosphere at Mountaineer Field last month when LSU came to town was pure SEC. The league is all about great athletes, fast play, hard hits, passion and intensity.  

And so is West By God Virginia.

Take me home, SEC.


Good article, agree WVU is a good fit just have to find a way to keep the backyard brawl going.


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