Big 12 Commissioner Discusses WVU Travel, Expansion - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Big 12 Commissioner Discusses WVU Travel, Expansion

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KANSAS CITY -

West Virginia University has finished competing in the Big 12 in its Fall and Winter sports. Spring sports are underway. WVU entered the league expecting to be at or near the top of the league in most of its major sports. The football team was picked to finish second in the Big 12. The women's basketball team was predicted to finish second in the league and the men's basketball team was picked to finish sixth.

All three of those programs finished below their media day predictions. The football team ended the season seventh in the Big 12 standings. The women's basketball team took sixth place in the league and the men's basketball team finished eighth in the ten-team league.

Certainly it was a more challenging transition year from the Big East to the Big 12 than many expected.

"I think it is true that the competition week in and week out is a little tougher in the Big 12 than it was in the Big East," Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby told WVi in an exclusive interview. "I think a lot of sports are experiencing that. Over time they will grow into it, I don't have any doubt about that."

The head coaches of those three programs, Dana Holgorsen, Mike Carey and Bob Huggins have said they will "fix it." Holgorsen has five new assistant coaches and added a large amount of junior college players. Huggins recruited to better help his team fit with the style of play in the Big 12 and Mike Carey needs his team to get healthy more than anything else.

While WVU did not compete in the league the way West Virginia fans expected this season, the University did not fall short of making the league happy it added the Mountaineers.

"West Virginia is a terrific new member," Bowlsby stated. "Every experience I have had with the University, with the athletics program, with University leadership has been first class. We really are very pleased with their involvement in the league."

The West Virginia men's and women's basketball teams logged 22,580 frequent flier miles to and from their Big 12 opponents. The toughest part of the schedule for the football team was in October when it faced back-to-back trips to the state of Texas. There are clearly concerns over the travel and how it can be better. Many times, WVU played late games in the Midwest and did not return to Morgantown until 5 a.m. or later on a weekday the following morning. There were other instances where, for example, WVU played at TCU on Saturday and had to return to Morgantown after the game before leaving about 48 hours later for Baylor, which is just a two hour drive from TCU.

"We recognize that it is not easy to come back to the Midwest as many times during the year as they have to," Bowlsby acknowledged. "In football, I think we learned it is hard to go to Texas twice on consecutive weekends. So, we need to schedule around that and we need to help."

West Virginia coaches and Athletic Director Oliver Luck have approached the league with some of their suggestions.

"I have talked with Coach Huggins about doing some things with scheduling that will take into account that WVU does not start school until the 15th of January," Bowlsby said. "It is a little easier to go on the road in those early weekends."

Travel to and from West Virginia's opponents were difficult enough at times, but WVU also had to deal with nine o'clock starts eastern time. That led to those early morning arrivals the next day in Morgantown and also hurt attendance figures at home games.

We didn't have all the opportunity to take advantage of wiggle room this past year," Bowlsby said about the late games. "Nine o'clock starts are hard. First of all, it is not sound from an academic and student-athlete standpoint. It also puts us into a really late viewing window, which at a practical level is not ideal for our TV partners and not ideal for the participants either way."

Throughout the basketball season, opposing coaches have acknowledged how difficult it must be fore WVU to constantly visit the Midwest. Those opponents are eager to work with West Virginia in helping the league find a solution.

"One of the things that was interesting coming away from the Athletic Directors' retreat that we had in January was that the Athletic Directors' were unanimous in prioritizing in assisting West Virginia," Bowlsby discussed. "They see it for the challenges it presents, yet they recognize that West Virginia is a great new member of the league and want to do everything they can to help."

Certainly another way the league could help WVU is to add a conference member that is geographically more in the "neighborhood" of Morgantown. Iowa State is currently the closest member to West Virginia University and that is more than 800 miles away from Morgantown.

"We have to be constantly vigilant and we are," Bowlsby stated. "Not withstanding the fact that it would be great to have a travel partner and geographic partner for West Virginia, we need to make sure we are making the right decisions on expansion."

Bowlsby continues to stand his ground that the league is very comfortable where it is with 10 members. The ACC recently added Notre Dame, Pitt and Syracuse. The Big Ten got bigger with the additions of Rutgers and Maryland. But the Big 12 likes its configuration right now and does not plan to grow unless it will clearly help from both a financial and competitive standpoint.

"We need to have expansion candidates that bring real value in excess of pro rata," Bowlsby stated. "We are distributing the largest amount of money to our members on a member by member basis of anybody in college athletics. I don't think we want to dilute that distribution by adding members that don't bring real value."

While there are no announced plans to grow, the Big 12 is constantly keeping one eye on the changing landscape and looking for potential targets.

"We are going to be patient and when we see an opportunity we will consider it," Bowlsby said. "Right now, we think a full round robin in football and a double round in basketball with the highest net distribution in college athletics is a good place to be."

The Big 12 with its 10 members is the smallest of the BCS conferences. Bowlsby insists that is just fine with the conference.

"I can tell you the dust has settled around us," Bowlsby said about expansion. "I think people were shocked and surprised by the Big Ten's move to take Maryland and Rutgers. They certainly didn't add teams at the top of their league. They added teams that have very significant financial gains and probably to be frank, don't bring the level of the competitiveness that the rest of the Big Ten has. I think that served to calm things down a bit. I would never say never, there could be other changes on the horizon."

Conference realignment is probably taking a short break while the new college football playoff format is finalized. Nobody seems to think realignment is done, but it certainly does not appear to be imminent in Big 12 country.

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