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Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Updated: February 24, 5:56 PM ET
WVU's parting is anything but sweet

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

Take me home, country roads.

But we'll need planes, trains and automobiles to get there.

West Virginia's ugly divorce from the Big East finally became official Tuesday morning, opening the door for the Mountaineers to play in the Big 12 this coming football season. After West Virginia and the Big East settled their dueling lawsuits, the Mountaineers will reportedly pay $10 million and the Big 12 will throw in another $10 million to pay the Big East's hefty exit fee. But that's really only chump change for the damage incurred by the suddenly gutted Big East, which will have only seven football-playing schools in 2012.

Oliver Luck
West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck and the Mountaineers officially parted ways with the Big East after the two sides agreed to a settlement.

Greed and the almighty dollar fueled college football's latest round of conference realignment -- we can only hope it's over for now -- and it's time for the sport's power brokers to start assessing the damage. Conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick will meet in Dallas next week and in Miami in April to discuss the future of the sport, including the possibility of a playoff system to determine college football's national champion.

Here's hoping those discussions are more cooperative and amicable than what we witnessed over the past 20 months, starting with Nebraska's jump from the Big 12 to the Big Ten and ending with West Virginia becoming the latest school to bail on the Big East.

In between, Missouri and Texas A&M joined the SEC; TCU jumped to the Big 12; Pittsburgh and Syracuse bolted for the ACC; Colorado and Utah went to the Pac-12; BYU became an independent; and Conference USA, the Big East, Mountain West and WAC swapped schools like eighth-grade girls juggle boyfriends.

Geography and tradition were certainly tossed aside in the latest wave of conference realignment. By 2014, the Big East will include teams from California, Idaho and Texas and might have only five of the schools that competed for its football championship last season. Pittsburgh and Syracuse are leaving for the ACC in 2014, if they don't try to negotiate an exit from the Big East even earlier.

Conference USA and the Mountain West are even discussing a merger -- or "association" -- which would include as many 18 to 24 teams playing in regional divisions. Conference USA lost Memphis to the Big East last week, after having already lost SMU, Houston and Central Florida to that league. Who feels sorry for the woebegone Big East now?

The proposed Conference USA-Mountain West merger would form a conference with borders stretching from Hawaii to East Carolina.

At this point, it's clear the non-AQ conferences are considering anything and everything to simply survive.

If there's a silver lining in conference realignment, it's that a college football playoff might be closer to becoming a reality than ever before. Just wait to hear the uproar after the champion of the watered-down Big East earns an automatic bid to play in a BCS bowl game this coming season. Of course, an 8-4 Big East team probably couldn't wait to play Clemson's defense in the Orange Bowl again.

The Big Ten and Pac-12, which were major roadblocks to a "plus-one" model during BCS meetings four years ago, now say they might be in favor of exploring some sort of playoff. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has tossed around the idea of a four-team playoff, and Pac-12 schools have recently discussed an eight-team model.

When the plus-one model was tossed aside in 2008, current ACC commissioner and then-BCS chairman John Swofford said: "Sometimes, there's a seed planted that takes a while to germinate. We'll have to see what the future holds."

Those playoff seeds are suddenly sprouting, thanks to unattractive BCS bowl matchups, declining attendance and TV ratings and the SEC's dominance on the field.

The so-called traditionalists have long opposed a playoff system because they wanted to preserve college football's regular season and didn't want the postseason extending too far into January. This past season, there were 35 bowl games played from Dec. 17 to Jan. 9, when Alabama defeated LSU 21-0 in the Allstate BCS National Championship in New Orleans.

The sanctity of the regular season sure didn't mean as much when compared to the possibility of more lucrative TV contracts, either. Instead of closing the regular season against rival Texas A&M, a Thanksgiving Day tradition, Texas will close the 2012 regular season at Kansas State. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State won't play their Bedlam rivalry game on the final Saturday of the upcoming regular season, either. The Sooners will play their final regular-season game at TCU, while the Cowboys will play at Baylor on Dec. 1.

So much for preserving college football's traditions.

Another argument against a playoff was that the increased travel would be too taxing on players, coaches and fans.

After joining the Big 12, the Mountaineers will play conference games at Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Iowa State this coming season, traveling more than 9,400 miles roundtrip to play those contests. Home-field advantage has never been so valuable in the Big 12. The Mountaineers' closest Big 12 opponent is Kansas, which sits 900 miles west of Morgantown, W.Va.

Here's hoping the Mountaineers and their fans hoarded their frequent flyer miles.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.