This time a year ago, TCU was slated to head to the Big East, the Big XII was set at 10 teams and the ACC and SEC were good to go with 12 programs each. Then fall of 2011 happened, and the carnage that would ensue resulted in 14-team ACC and SEC moves, the Big East losing TCU to the Big XII and everyone sitting and waiting on Missouri.
As West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck says in his very candid interview with ESPN's David Ubben, the Tigers were a major cog in the decision making process:
"Missouri held a lot of the cards," Luck said. "We and the SEC and the Big 12 in a sense waited on a final decision on Missouri’s status, and that then prompted additional opportunities and decisions."
What ultimately was a major move for Mizzou turned out to be an equally big decision for West Virginia—a decision that West Virginia acted upon quickly. Luck had already seen the Big East dissolve around him as Pitt and Syracuse opted to head to the ACC and newcomer TCU never happened. Luck noticed the strike against the Big East immediately.
"We love to hate Pitt, but we have 104 years of history together," Luck said. "When those two schools left, that was a blow to the Big East. I don’t care how you cut it, it was a blow to the Big East."
"I think it was pretty obvious that the league was going to struggle. We hadn’t added a new member since 2005. Sitting in these AD meetings, there was no expansion committee to speak of."
No new members, no teams clamoring to get in at the time. No discussion of doing things to help keep the league viable. The conference was in a holding pattern as leagues around them improved, and Luck was not going to sit and wait any longer.
To call Luck's play to the Big XII desperation is to do him, a forward-thinking AD, a true disservice. It is more of a play to act now, a move to ensure that he was doing his job in keeping the Mountaineers up with the proverbial Joneses of college football.
Was it desperation or a smart move that forced West Virginia to leave?
He had already gone out and hired the coach he felt would keep them relevant on the field. Now, it was his job to keep things rolling smoothly from a financial and futures standpoint. Luck did his job, and the beauty in his power play is that he made no bones about it. He did it like a band-aid, ripped it right off.
He didn't haggle over terms, did not want anything more out of the league; the leader had made the decision and all he wanted to do was get his team out of the failing conference.
The Big East, which has since added seven teams going through 2015's addition of Navy, may recover from this latest round of expansion. In the 2004-05 expansion, the league rebounded well; Louisville, West Virginia and Cincinnati had big runs on the college football landscape.
This go-around, the league again has its work cut out, and this time it will be doing it without a West Virginia team that acted, not in desperation, but in response to the league's own inactivity. As Luck said, this is not West Virginia's fault they've abandoned their long-time East Coast home:
"We didn’t really leave the Big East. It left us"
And he's right. Much like Syracuse and Pitt elected to leave for stability, so too did West Virginia. Luck has been candid, and it will be interesting to hear Pitt and/or Syracuse's similar thoughts as they saw the evolving college landscape.