Something that caught my eye today on college sports conference expansion was this article from Kirk Bohls on West Virginia being the top candidate for the Big 12 to replace Missouri. There’s an interesting quote from some anonymous (of course) “school official” from a Big 12 school:
West Virginia has better football than Missouri, better basketball than Missouri, a better budget than Missouri and more passion among its fans than Missouri. They’re better, anyway you turn ‘em. The travel’s not good (to Morgantown, W. Va) but that’s it.
Let me just say this as plainly as possible: that’s a load of bunk. If West Virginia was better than Missouri, than West Virginia would already have accepted its invite to play in the SEC. West Virginia was hoping for an SEC invite. The SEC prefers Missouri because Mizzou is a bigger prize, “anyway you turn ’em.”
There’s an argument that West Virginia has better football than Missouri, but over the last five years West Virginia hasn’t been much better (if at all). It is fine to argue that the Mountaineers have a better long-term tradition in football (which is true), but if you are going to say that then you have to acknowledge that Mizzou has a better long-term tradition in basketball. On top of all of that, the insult to the passion of Mizzou fans is curious given that Mizzou outdraws West Virginia at its home football games.
The budget claim is also curious. It turns out that some athletics budget figures are available for both WVU and Mizzou. While it appears that WVU spends more on football, Mizzou’s overall athletics spending appears to be much higher.
As for travel, the anonymous source is correct that travel will be tough. Check out Morgantown’s airport schedule. Unless schools are chartering planes (which makes little sense for non-football sports), they are most likely going to have to fly into Pittsburgh and bus it the rest of the way. Oh, and as far as markets go, West Virginia is a small state with no large cities. By way of comparison, the state of Missouri has about three times as many residents, and two large cities in Kansas City and St Louis whose metro area populations are larger than the population of the entire state of West Virginia.
I know that there will be a pretty heavy PR push to polish the turd that is Missouri leaving the conference, but trying to claim that West Virginia is a much bigger prize than Missouri is fairly laughable. I hope that some of the media members who will report this stuff will try to place it in the context of reality. Is West Virginia the best of the possible replacements for Missouri? Perhaps – maybe even probably. But that does not make them a better program for the Big 12 than Missouri has been.