NCAA Expansion: West Virginia Is the Best Choice for the SEC's 14th School

Matt Ryan@Matlanta1989Correspondent IISeptember 23, 2011

COLLEGE PARK, MD - SEPTEMBER 17: Quarterback Geno Smith #12 of the West Virginia Mountaineers drops back to pass against the Maryland Terrapins during the second half at Byrd Stadium on September 17, 2011 in College Park, Maryland. West Virginia defeated Maryland 37-31.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Super conferences may be on hold for now, but the landscape of the NCAA has still been dramatically altered.

Syracuse and Pittsburgh left the Big East for the ACC without any warning. This was a proactive move by the ACC to get ahead in the expansion race, in case any of their schools left for the SEC or Big Ten. The possibility of losing schools to another conference has diminished now that the ACC has raised their exit fee to $20 million.

This makes it unlikely for Florida State to join the SEC or Maryland to depart for the Big Ten.

The losses of Syracuse and Pittsburgh have cast doubt about the future of the Big East as a football conference, let alone their BCS-qualifying status.

It seemed like the Big 12 was the conference on the brink of collapse, and now the Big East is under the expansion spotlight.

Upstate New York and Western Pennsylvania may not be the only places the Big East expands to. UConn is actively trying to become the 15th member of the conference and the Huskies could be joined by Rutgers.

Several weeks ago, few would have thought that the ACC could become the first conference to get 16 teams.

The Pac-16 may be on hold again, but conference expansion is far from it.

The Big East will try to replace its departing members by going after East Carolina and possibly other Conference USA schools.

When Texas A&M eventually joins the SEC, the conference's membership will increase to 13 teams. At least one more school will have to be added and the SEC would likely remain at 14 teams, as noted by South Carolina president Harris Pastides.

There has been speculation that the conference could expand to 16 members, but the SEC will have to at least officially expand to 13 before that becomes a possibility.

The biggest question surrounding conference expansion right now is who will become the SEC's 14th member. Conference presidents are hesitant to add schools from states they already have a footprint in. That rules out Florida State and Clemson.

Virginia Tech is a logical choice, but the Hokies would go from an easy BCS Bowl path to playing in the nation's toughest conference week in and week out.

Getting Oklahoma won't happen without Oklahoma State tagging along, and another school from Texas is out of the question.

Missouri received an informal SEC offer, but the Big 12's survival may put that in doubt. Also, the conference will need an eastern school to balance out the divisions (assuming Auburn isn't moved to the SEC East).

That makes West Virginia the best choice to become the 14th school in the Southeastern Conference.

LSU head coach Les Miles says the Tigers' upcoming matchup in Morgantown feels like an SEC game. The Mountaineers have a rabid fanbase that would fit right in to a conference known for its dedicated followers.

Big East football hasn't had much to brag about lately, but the Mountaineers have a been bright spot for an otherwise lackluster conference. 

West Virginia has won at least nine games every year since 2005, is consistently ranked in the Top 25 and has had success in big games.

The Mountaineers won the 2006 Sugar Bowl over Georgia and demolished Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. They were national title contenders during that time and helped bring some respectability to Big East football.

They have had similar success in basketball, where they have appeared in six of the last seven NCAA tournaments. The Mountaineers went to the Elite Eight in two of those appearances, including the Final Four in 2010.

West Virginia would become an instant rival with the Kentucky Wildcats. Matchups between Bob Huggins and John Calipari would become must-watch TV in a conference not known for being a hoops power.

Earlier this week it was reported that West Virginia was declined membership by the SEC and ACC. This shows they are certainly not the top expansion choice by other conferences.

The SEC (and ACC) may be hesitant because of the school's academic reputation, but this conference isn't exactly known for its Ivy League prestige off the field.

A more likely reason for not accepting the Mountaineers could be due to how little the conference's footprint would expand. There are over 29,000 students in Morgantown, but West Virginia would be the least populated state with an SEC school.

While Huntington and Charleston aren't on the top of Mike Slive's list for media markets, adding the Mountaineers would help expand the SEC's brand into the Northeast. Thirty-eight percent of West Virginia's students are from out of state, compared to 30 percent for Auburn and 35 percent for Ole Miss. Many of those students come from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

The state of West Virginia may not have large markets to expand to, but Morgantown is less than a two-hour drive from Pittsburgh, which is home to many Mountaineer alumni.

The SEC may have previously turned down West Virginia, but options are shrinking for their 14th member. The conference will do all it can to avoid having a 13-team conference for too long.

Questions may be raised about academic reputations and market sizes, but when it comes down to purely athletics, there is no better (and realistic) option than the Mountaineers.

When push comes to shove, a decision will have to be made and when it is, West Virginia is the best choice to join Texas A&M in the SEC.