BLUEFIELD — In less than 24 hours a new era in West Virginia University sports will begin.
Since the 1991 season, WVU has played football in the Big East Conference. The league started round-robin play in 1993, the year West Virginia completed an 11-0 regular season and gained a berth in the Sugar Bowl.
At the stroke of midnight that affiliation will end and the Mountaineers’ new home will be the Big 12 Conference.
From the mid-1960s until 1991 WVU was a football independent. The Mountaineers left the Southern Conference, where at one time they were conference mates with North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duke, Richmond, The Citadel, Davidson and others.
North Carolina, Virginia and Duke all left the Southern Conference in 1953 to form the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Formed in 1921, the SoCon is one of the oldest and at one time was one of the largest conferences in the country, West Virginia’s membership in the league dated from the 1940s.
WVU’s independent status allowed them to join other Eastern football teams such as Pitt, Penn State, Syracuse, Temple, Rutgers, Boston College and later Virginia Tech in a loose alliance where many of the teams that made up the original Big East football conference, routinely played each other on the gridiron.
In fact, when the Big East football conference began play in 1991, the only team WVU had to add to its schedule that it did not normally play that was in the new football federation was Miami.
Now the WVU football schedule will feature the likes of Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Iowa State, TCU and Kansas.
Long-time Mountaineers fan Jim Bryant of Green Valley likes the change.
“I feel great about the move. We’re actually relevant now. If we lose we’re losing to good teams, if we win we’re beating good teams and we’re going to play I think five teams who are in the preseason top 25,” Bryant said.
“We have at least five games that are very relevant this year. I feel great about this, I’m psyched. I’m stoked!”
Brianne McKinney of Bluewell attended WVU and has been a Mountaineer fan since her days attending Bluefield High School. She likes the upgrade in conference affiliation.
“I think it’s a good idea. I think it will be good for them. It’s a bigger conference and hopefully when we win, West Virginia will start getting the recognition they deserve,” McKinney said.
Bobby Pinter of Princeton is excited about the move to the Big 12, but he wishes it would have been to another conference. Nevertheless, he is thrilled that the Mountaineers do have a new home.
“I really like the idea. I think it will be very beneficial to the program, I just wish it would have been the ACC,” Pinter said. “I’m really looking forward to the games with Oklahoma and the other Big 12 schools. I think we will hold our own and people will be surprised.”
Tougher competition will definitely be in store for West Virginia in their new conference home.
Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State are all ranked in various pre-season top 25 polls along with West Virginia, giving the league six of its 10 teams in the Top 25.
Compare that to the Big East, where in most seasons only one team has been ranked, and there have been several recent seasons where no Big East team had garnered enough preseason votes to be included in the top 25 teams in the nation.
WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck said during his visit to Princeton recently, “What we have been able to do, by going into the Big 12 is just give our student athletes, give our state university, give our state a much bigger platform on which we can show off what we’ve got, because nobody has the work ethic like West Virginia.
“Nobody supports their team like West Virginians. We just have a great opportunity to do a lot of really fun things with the Big 12.”
At the stroke of midnight the Mountaineers will have a new home.
— Contact Bob Redd at