Next Steps?

With a move to the Big 12 in the offing, West Virginia will face an entirely new set of challenges. Here are just some of the major items left to be resolved once the move is formally announced.

ITEM: Where will West Virginia play in 2012? Or 2013?

With the Big East still committed to holding its departing members to the 27-month window, West Virginia couldn't leave the league until Feb. 1, 2014. That would, of course, bind it to a full spring semester of sports in the Big East that year as well, so realistically, the Mountaineers couldn't begin play as a full Big 12 member until the fall of that year.

Of course, contracts and agreements are made to be renegotiated and reconfigured, so what could West Virginia do to help speed its assimilation into the Big 12?

First, the Mountaineers could continue to help get teams into the Big East. That might seem jarring, given that WVU wold be on its way out, but behind the scenes, West Virginia could continue to point out the advantages of Big East membership to candidate schools. Granted, those aren't great, but they are better than those currently offered by C-USA, the Mountain West or the WAC. Obviously, some of those leagues are doing their own thing to up their stature, but that's out of WVU's control. If the Big East could get to 12 schools quickly, then West Virginia might be able to get out of the agreement early, just as Syracuse and Pitt hope to do. The time is very tight for such an option, however.

Second, and diametrically opposed to the first, WVU could do nothing, and hope that the Big East collapses before next year. That's a long shot at best, because West Virginia, Pitt and Syracuse will all be bound by the 27-month agreement, and the Big East isn't likely to let them go if it would put membership under the eight-team limit. While some might advocate this position out of sheer dislike for the way in which the basketball schools have run the league, it's not a move that's likely to be advocated.

Third, West Virginia could offer a big buyout. At least two different sources have indicated that schools wishing to depart the Big East could pay a bigger buyout to get out before the 27-month waiting period. That figure, listed as $20 and $21 million by two different sources, has not been confirmed by Big East officials, who were in meetings on Tuesday afternoon. Logical thinking suggests that the league and departing schools could work out a solution to departure that is acceptable on both fronts, but for now the league holds the cards on the buyout time. If the Big East believes that it will have trouble getting back to eight football schools by 2012 (or 2013) it is not going to release West Virginia, Pitt or Syracuse early.

Fourth, there is the legal option. Schools could file some sort of suit claiming that the league is not what it was when it was formed as a football conference, and thus claim that as an avenue for exit. Frankly, that seems like a huge longshot, and not one that would stand a reasonable chance of success. Even if it did, it would likely take so long to play out as to make it moot in helping West Virginia depart early, so that's not a reasonable option.

The fifth, and best option? A merger of Conference USA, the Mountain West and the Big East. That's not just a pipe dream, either. The commissioners of those three leagues are set to meet in New York on Wednesday, and the goal of the non-AQ leagues is to leave the Big Apple with a merger agreement in place. Such a move, which would result in four seven-team divisions, would require a waiver from the NCAA to permit a four-team playoff for the conference title and resulting BCS bid.

The upshot of all these options? There are still several scenarios that could put West Virginia into the Big 12 next fall. It's also possible that WVU might not being play until 2013. Stay tuned.

ITEM: Where will WVU's sports fit?

Currently West Virginia and the Big 12 have the following sports in common: football, men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball, women's cross country, women's gymnastics, women's rowing, women's soccer, men's swimming and diving, women's swimming and diving, women's tennis, women's track and field, volleyball and wrestling.

Not every school competes in every sport (for example, only Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Kansas State have rowing teams), but the league sponsors championships in all of the aforementioned sports.

For WVU, that leaves just rifle and men's soccer without a home. The rifle team would continue to compete in the Great American Rifle Conference, while the men's soccer team would have to look to land in another league. While that will be tough for head coach Marlon LeBlanc's troops, West Virginia's solid reputation on the pitch should help pave the way for the move. A C-USA official told on Tuesday that it would be interested in adding a men's soccer team like West Virginia. The conference currently hosts two SEC schools' men's soccer teams - Kentucky and South Carolina. According to that official, however, no bid or invitation has gone out at this point and it would be up to the conference's affiliated schools to make such a decision.

ITEM: How will the move affect WVU's fan support?

Clearly, it's much easier (although not more desirable) to drive to Pittsburgh than it is to fly to Waco, Tex., or Ames, Iowa. Will WVU be able to uphold its reputation of excellent road support? (Enjoy that "Occupy Heinz" trip, because it might be the last one you make, WVU fans.)

Will West Virginia fans be able to consistently head to Oklahoma City or

Dallas or San Antonio and then fan out to the locations of Big 12 schools? Certainly, the first time, as a novelty, WVU will have good fan support. The challenge will be in getting to those places in succeeding years, and making not one, but several such trips per year.

Unfortunately, this item isn't one of major concern in any realignment process, especially one where the school is looking for the first good port in the storm.

The guess here is that WVU will do well early, but by year five or six, it might be tough to expect good numbers on the road.

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