For the second time in a few weeks, Kansas State president Kirk Schulz proudly welcomed a new member to the Big 12 today.
This time, he welcomes West Virginia, a university out of the Big East that has won two BCS bowl games and recently went to the Final Four.
“They immediately bring very competitive athletic programs to the conference,” said Schulz, who serves as the chair of the Big 12′s expansion committee. “They are consistently the top football program in the Big East. Under coach Bob Huggins they have been outstanding in men’s basketball, as well. They have been successful in other sports. They bring a lot to the table, immediately.”
Schulz also said West Virginia will be a nice academic fit with the Big 12.
The Mountaineers won’t, however, be an easy geographical fit for the Big 12. When the conference added TCU, it added a school from within its footprint. No matter where you are, it’s easy to get to Fort Worth for a game. But Morgantown, W. Va.? That’s a different story.
“It clearly is a concern,” Schulz said. “Part of the conversation we had was really focused around the additional travel time we would face with them in the conference, but at the same time we felt that the other positive attributes about West Virginia were more important than the travel considerations.
“… As a conference, we’re competing against the Pac-12 and the SEC. The only way to do that is to bring in the strongest programs that we can. That’s what we’ve done.”
As K-State athletic director John Currie pointed out earlier this week, extra flights to Morgantown will increase K-State’s travel budget. But not by a great amount. In the past, the Wildcats have flown to Colorado and Texas A&M on a regular basis. They sometimes flew to Missouri, which is soon expected to leave the Big 12 for the SEC.
Schulz expects K-State’s football and men’s basketball teams to charter flights to West Virginia games. He pointed out the Pittsburgh airport is nearby, and he assumes most programs in the Big 12 will fly there and make the short drive to Morgantown for matches and games involving their Olympic sports.
He thinks missed class time will be kept to a minimum.
In the meantime, what does this move mean for the Big 12? Reports had Louisville and West Virginia running neck-and-neck with each other for a spot in the conference. One name I’ve heard more and more from sources in the past week is Notre Dame. It seems like the Big 12 is interested in giving the Fighting Irish a landing spot for all sports other than football should they decide to leave the Big East. A scheduling alliance could be formed between Notre Dame and the Big 12 for football, helping both sides.
Is that just talk? Or is the Big 12 done expanding?
“We’re going to continue to monitor the conference landscape and see what happens,” Schulz said. “We’re comfortable at 10 teams for now, but we’re going to continue examining that over the next month.”
The other questions that remain about West Virginia joining the Big 12: Will West Virginia switch leagues in time for next season as the Big 12 suggested in its release? Or will the Mountaineers be in the Big East for 27 more months, as its buyout terms suggest? And when well we know something definitive about Missouri?
“I don’t have any comment on that, because I simply don’t know,” Schulz said. “I’d prefer not to say anything on that.”