With the reported move of Texas A&M to the SEC, a number of observers are predicting an epic shift in the conference landscape. While that outcome is possible, it's certainly not a foregone conclusion. Many different scenarios could result if the Aggies apply and are accepted by the ACC, but not all of them would end up with a new location for the Mountaineer program.
In examining the different scenarios, it becomes evident that a one or two team shift in membership to the SEC wouldn't necessarily initiate the domino effect of movement that would trickle down to the ACC or SEC. While there are as many different scenarios as there are yards in a typical Dana Holgorsen passing attack, we'll try to look at a few of the more likely occurrences and their possible effects on West Virginia.
Scenario I: A&M to the SEC with one other school
First we're assuming that the SEC won't stop at 13 schools, as that would leave them unbalanced. It's reasonable to assume a 14th school would also get an invite, and the location of that school will have a big impact on West Virginia's future.
First, it's very unlikely that WVU gets an offer to the SEC. Oklahoma, Missouri, Clemson, Florida State and even Louisville are apparently above the Mountaineers on the SEC's wishlist. With the SEC sending out quiet messages that they don't wish to break up other conferences, it's reasonable to assume that the Sooners and midwestern Tigers are logical targets. And if they aren't, there are other schools that would probably get calls first.
Say that one of those two Big XII schools join A&M. Does that automatically mean the Big XII disintegrates? Not necessarily. That league would immediately go after BYU, Air Force or Houston, and could salvage itself if it loses two or fewer members. That might end the major changes right there, and leave WVU, the Big East and the ACC unaffected.
Say, however, that the ACC doesn't stand firm, as predicted by some observers, and a second SEC member is plucked from the ACC. IS WVU first on the ACC's list? Sources have indicated that Virginia, Virginia Tech and Florida State would support a West Virginia invite. Would that put the Mountaineers first on the list? Not necessarily, but there might not be another school that could build a stronger case. Still, with just one opening, it would not be a foregone conclusion that West Virginia would be the ACC pick.
Scenario II: A&M and one other school to the SEC with Big XII breakup
The assumption in some quarters is that another defection from the Big XII would automatically lead to conference disintegration. Dissatisfaction with the bullying tactics of Texas or reaction by the Pac-12 to SEC expansion are two possible reasons, but whatever the motivation, the feeling of some is that the Big XII will crumble.
Assume that A&M leaves, and then Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, seeing their future TV rights dwindling, reopen talks with the Pac-12, which certainly wanted to extend its reach last year. That pair could depart west, leaving, at most, seven teams. That could spur Missouri to join A&M or again open a path to the Big Ten, and leave sharks to feed upon the scraps. At that point, the Big East could exercise a path predicted at one point, and try to add Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri if it remains, or Iowa State to bring itself to 12 football schools.
If the ACC lost a school to pair with A&M in the SEC in this scenario, the midwest merge option isn't nearly as attractive to the ACC. However, that could spur it to make a move on one or three Big East schools, again with future stability in mind. Would an ACC addition of West Virginia, Pitt and Syracuse make sense? Much of that might depend on the confidence those schools have in the words of commissioner John Marinatto, who predicts a bonanza of a TV deal in the league's media negotiations. In such a multi-team move, however, West Virginia would appear to be well-positioned. While the Mountaineers might not be first on every list, any multi-team move would figure to include them.
Scenario III: The scramble for the future
The belief is strong in some quarters that college football is heading for a future that includes four 16-team conferences as a precursor to a playoff. While I'd prefer a six-conference, 12-team setup (with two wild cards available for an eight-team playoff), the thought is that A&M's move might be the first step in that direction. If so, and if that presages a four-team addition by the SEC, then is almost assured that the four conferences will be the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and some amalgamation of the ACC, SEC and Big XII remainders. That would have the most direct, and obviously most immediate, effect on WVU. The league structure would change dramatically, with the Mountaineers departing their Big East brethren that don't play Division I football.
That might be a bit bigger step than occurs at this point, though. With other major issues also in play in college football, including an NCAA revamping and the Big East's new media contract, it's possible that the current A&M-driven affair might lead to changes closer to the first scenario than the drastic realignment discussed here. A move to a balanced conference setup with champions advancing to a proposed playoff would require unprecedented cooperation among the leagues, and that's not likely to occur until one or two of those leagues folds, or at least ceases to support Division I football. That's a process that isn't going to happen as a result of negotiations, so it's more likely that the current situation is nearly another step to the ultimate outcome of four big football playing conferences.
For West Virginia, it looks to be a simple case of math. The more teams involved at the top, the more likely WVU is to be affected. However, if there are just one or two teams involved in the initial move, the Mountaineers might be standing pat until the next round of changes begin.