West Virginia again proves what matters

October, 28, 2011
10/28/11
1:30
PM ET
West Virginia had to endure a week of limbo and a false alarm. The deal was on. Then it wasn't. Now, it is: West Virginia is the newest member of the Big 12.

Questions about the timing of the Mountaineers' entrance (July 2012 or 27 months from now?) remain, but the biggest has a clear answer: Do the Mountaineers fit?

In the only way that truly matters in realignment, on the field (and by default, the conference bank account), West Virginia has done everything necessary to prove that yes, it does belong.

Realignment moves of late have made clear that geography is a secondary concern in realignment, right by basketball but barely within earshot of football acumen. The Big 12 wasn't in a position to break the mold. It needed quality programs more than it needed a new neighbor, and West Virginia's lack of the latter was nowhere near enough to outweigh the former.

West Virginia proved it was a school worthy of any major conference.

The Mountaineers have paid the BCS two visits. They beat SEC champion Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl. Nobody's beaten the SEC champion in the BCS since.

Two years later, Big 12 champion Oklahoma went down by 20 points in the Fiesta Bowl.

Those are games in which program's reputations are staked upon. Now, they're games that help push West Virginia from a crumbling Big East into a rebuilding Big 12.

In a conference without Texas and Oklahoma, do Texas A&M and Missouri make more than their combined one appearance in the BCS, which came all the way back in 1998?

We'll never know.

TCU made it twice. West Virginia did the same. The Mountaineers capitalized on both visits and with its official entry into the Big 12, carries with it a bag stocked with football legitimacy.

Armed with hindsight, any chance West Virginians can find it in their hearts to forgive Rich Rodriguez? No? Oh, OK.

Geography is West Virginia's sole negative. That fact is inescapable. Iowa State, at more than 750 miles, is the closest school to the unmistakable outlier joining the league.

The league's release made no mention of Missouri as a member. If the Tigers' exit becomes official, the league will have lost four members in 16 months, including two of its signature programs, Texas A&M and Nebraska.

The Big 12 will deal with the travel concerns, which are a much bigger issue for West Virginia than for the Big 12's other members.

Like the rest of realignment, though, this decision boils down to football.

TCU had the proximity West Virginia lacked. Its Fort Worth campus is only a 30-45 minute drive from the league offices in Dallas. The Horned Frogs lacked the sizeable stadium and large alumni base, with fewer than 10,000 students on campus.

West Virginia has a 60,000-seat stadium and an enrollment of just under 30,000 students, which puts it firmly in the Big 12 median in terms of school size.

That campus is located 1,200 miles from the Big 12 offices.

The Mountaineers prove once again that winning a lot of games -- especially big ones inside the world of the BCS -- heals all.

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