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Friday, December 30, 2011
Fond farewell for West Virginia?

By Andrea Adelson

West Virginia has won more Big East championships than anybody currently in the league. It has had the most success of any current member -- one of just 14 schools in the nation with 700 victories. It probably has the most name recognition of any current member, too.

West Virginia's Geno Smith
Geno Smith and the Mountaineers are preparing for the Discover Orange Bowl, possibly the school's final game as a Big East member.
But alas, there will be no fond sendoff, no hugs and kisses and thanks for the memories when West Virginia plays Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl next Wednesday. The Mountaineers are intent on this being their final game in the Big East, though two separate lawsuits await judgment on that matter.

This soap opera is rather easy to follow, even if the legal arguments are convoluted: West Virginia wants to leave for its new home in the Big 12 in 2012. Athletic director Oliver Luck says plans are already being made for that to happen. The Big East wants West Virginia to wait the required 27 months before exiting. Commissioner John Marinatto says there is no way he will allow the Mountaineers to leave early.

The ugly legal fight, bold accusations and bitter back-and-forth between the two parties has only amplified an undeniable mismatch. A team that wants nothing to do with the Big East … will represent the Big East in the biggest bowl game of the season.

Not exactly what this league needs right now.

This, after all, is a conference that has taken more hits than a Timex over the last several years. Its national rep has been stomped, and the Big East is regarded as the weakest of the six automatic qualifying conferences. Its three remaining flagship programs -- Pitt, Syracuse and West Virginia -- fled faster than Tavon Austin in the 100-yard dash.

To rebuild itself, the Big East reached all the way to California in a move that drew snickers and makes a mockery of the conference name. Yet only one of the five new additions comes with BCS credentials and more visibility than West Virginia. That would be Boise State, a team that was passed over for an at-large BCS bid this season.

So that means the Big East has zero teams in the BCS with a future in the conference.

There is no question this looks bad for the Big East in the short term. But in the long term, there are plenty of positives to consider: The Big East will tell you that it survived the first round of poaching back in 2003, when Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech left. Louisville and Cincinnati came in from Conference USA and have had their own measure of success in this conference. There are those who believe Louisville will start 2012 as a preseason top 25 team because it returns 16 starters. Cincinnati coach Butch Jones won Big East Coach of the Year honors this season.

But this time is very different in a big way. Changes to the BCS loom large, as discussions have begun in earnest on ways to fix the current system. Most every option is on the table, including stripping the automatic qualifying designation from every conference and lifting the limit on the number of teams per conference that can be selected. None of that bodes well for the Big East, which has sent a team with at least three losses to the BCS in consecutive years.

The Big East also has not won a BCS game since West Virginia beat Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. Going back to 2005 -- the first year for the reconstituted Big East -- West Virginia has two of the Big East's three BCS wins. Louisville has the other.

There is no denying that West Virginia has been a major contributor to the success of this league. There also is no denying the last few months have been messy, and both sides are unhappy with the other.

While the end to the season may not be the best scenario for the Big East, there is no fitter ending for West Virginia than being in this game, given all it has meant to this conference.