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West Virginia Football: If ACC Expands, Mountaineers an Obvious Choice

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The Mountaineers should be an obvious expansion candidate for the ACC.

The decision by Oklahoma and Texas not to renew their grant of rights with the Big 12 and explore a move to the SEC has a chance to create a domino effect that could touch every college football conference and a good chunk of teams at the FBS level. The ACC is one of those leagues studying the landscape and weighing options during a time of massive uncertainty in college athletics. Whether or not the ACC expands to 15 or 16 members will depend on several factors. But one thing is clear: If the conference decides to add, West Virginia is a clear and obvious choice.

Expansion is more complicated for the ACC than other leagues, however. The conference has an agreement with Notre Dame for membership in all sports but football and hockey. The Golden Domers currently play five games against ACC opponents, but the conference has made no secret of its desire for the program to join as a full-time member. Notre Dame isn’t likely to give up its independence anytime soon, which means the ACC is either stuck at 14.5 members, has to get creative and go to 15 and scrap the Atlantic and Coastal Division setup, or explore 16 full-time programs with the Fighting Irish remaining a partial member.

The Mountaineers aren’t going to add a new and major media market that drastically improves the ACC’s television deal. However, West Virginia fits perfectly from a geography perspective and brings a well-rounded athletic department and recently renovated football stadium to pitch to the conference.

West Virginia also fulfills the goal of new commissioner Jim Phillips’ plan to bolster the conference’s football product. The Mountaineers have recorded only five losing seasons since 1995 and have won at least 10 games under five different head coaches. “As I've stated since my first day as ACC commissioner, football must be the number one priority for us, for all of us, our schools, the league, ACC Network, our partners, coaches,” Phillips said at ACC Media Days. “We've been collaborating for months to ensure that ACC football has the mindset of 24/7, 365, and we're working together to further elevate football in the ACC.”

Renewing old Big East battles with Syracuse and Miami? Good for the ACC. How about rivalries with Pitt, Virginia and Virginia Tech? Even better.

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West Virginia isn’t afraid to devote resources to its football program. According to the USA Today database of public universities, the Mountaineers spent $98,249,890 on college athletics in 2018-19. That total would’ve ranked sixth in the ACC – ahead of NC State and Virginia Tech.

Fan support is another check in favor of West Virginia. The Mountaineers averaged 55,907 fans a game during the 2019-20 season, which ranked 27th nationally. Only Virginia Tech, NC State and Clemson drew more fans on average in the ACC.

The last round of college football realignment and expansion was all about bringing new markets to a conference in an effort to bolster revenue or the number of viewers reached on a network. This time around, inventory, quality games and value mean a little more, especially as the focus shifts away from cable and more to streaming services. New members have to add value to force partners to tear up existing agreements and maintain or increase the slice of revenue coming to each member of the conference.

Whether or not West Virginia can generate enough interest from the ACC's television partners to fulfill the revenue angle is uncertain. But adding a program with ties to several members, can compete right away, and has excellent fan support seems like an obvious fit and checks off several boxes of value during this round of realignment. 

Miami, Syracuse, Boston College, Louisville, Virginia Tech and Pitt have all found their way from the old Big East to the ACC. It’s time for the country roads to bring West Virginia back to the East Coast and into the ACC.

Podcast: Complete CFB Expansion and Realignment Breakdown + What's to Come