Contributors, Football, Sean Manning, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Don’t look now, but conference realignment is about to shake up the college sports landscape yet again

MORGANTOWN — Walking out of Byrd Stadium — which just so happens to be where WVU will open the 2021 season — following the Mountaineers’ 37-31 win over Maryland in September 2011, news was buzzing about a major change about to hit college sports.

Pitt and Syracuse were leaving the Big East for what they deemed greener pastures in the ACC.

This was eight years after Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami did the same, but this time, it felt like the final nail in the coffin of the Big East.

And as a consequence, where in the world was WVU going to go?

For months, rumors swirled about possible landing spots in the Power 5 with the ACC or SEC, but nerves also caused many to worry about joining the likes of Conference USA.

Ultimately, it was the Big 12 which saved WVU, as the Mountaineers became members in 2012 after getting out of a contract with the Big East. The Big East fizzled and WVU has spent the last 10 years as a geographical outlier, but in the steady arms of a Power 5 conference.

On Wednesday, reports shook the college sports landscape with rumors swirling that Oklahoma and Texas, easily the two most-prominent programs in the Big 12, had reached out to the SEC about jumping ship, and it was later reported by Stadium’s Brett McMurphy that the SEC has mutual interest.

Not only was there smoke, but flames were clearly visible when universities were releasing statements, and Oklahoma’s and Texas’ read oddly similar.

“The college athletics landscape is shifting constantly. We don’t address every anonymous rumor,” Oklahoma’s read.

“Speculation swirls around collegiate athletics. We will not address rumors or speculation,” Texas’ read.

While several dominoes need to fall and this is clearly the early stages of the next round of conference realignment, the Sooners and Longhorns leaving the Big 12 would put the conference in a precarious situation.

And the result, yet again, puts WVU in the same position.

Still too early to have any real idea where the university could end up, there is still an obvious choice WVU should be full-steam ahead in trying to get into: the ACC.

It feels like déjà vu, with the ACC raiding the Big East before and WVU being a clear geographical fit. Yet, it never happened, with Syracuse and Pitt being the selections in 2011.

Whatever the reason, many claimed academics played a part, with schools on Tobacco Road in North Carolina leading the charge. It seems like WVU and the ACC have never been able to sync up at the right time.

Back when the Big 12 had a spot remaining, WVU and Louisville were the finalists with the Mountaineers ultimately taking it. A year later, though, Maryland bolted the ACC for the Big Ten, and Louisville was sitting there as the clear choice to replace the Terps.

If Louisville got in the Big 12 over WVU, would the Mountaineers have gotten the spot in the ACC? Who knows, but it’s hard not to play revisionist history.

If the SEC adds two more schools, the others will look to add to keep up with the Joneses. Notre Dame is the key piece, if it wants to join a conference in football, and with its history with the ACC in other sports, the ACC would likely prioritize the Irish over anyone.

But that still leaves one spot to get to 16 schools.

Since 2011, WVU has a new president in E. Gordon Gee, new athletic director in Shane Lyons, and upgraded facilities across all sports that could go head-to-head with the powerhouses across the nation.

The idea of being in the same conference as Pitt, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Virginia, Syracuse and Miami has to be intriguing to the university and fans.

This isn’t 2011 anymore, and a lot has changed across the board.

TWEET @SeanManning_1