MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — The Big 12 Conference has been a center-stage player in the latest cycle of realignment in college sports, but in a surprise twist, basketball is currently the driving force.
According to a Wednesday report from ESPN’s Pete Thamel, league commissioner Brett Yormark met in Frisco, Texas with Gonzaga athletic director Chris Standiford last week, signaling an apparent effort to bring the Bulldogs into the Big 12. That move would bring Gonzaga, a yearly powerhouse in men’s basketball, into the league, even though the university does not have a football program.
To WVU men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins, this development indicates a wider shift in the realignment narrative: football is no longer the only engine for these changes, and Big 12 basketball has a bright future.
“That ‘football driving the train’ thing is — that train is slowing down, and the basketball thing is kicking up,” Huggins said. “When somebody says something about Gonzaga coming in the league, I mean, come on, the basketball part of it, I think [Yormark] can go lure the best. That makes it pretty exciting.”
WVU’s Hall of Fame coach got to spend some time with Yormark in New York and expressed support for the new commissioner’s vision for the Big 12. That vision is ambitious, but Yormark has a track record of making big things happen, especially during his time as the CEO of the Brooklyn Nets.
Huggins described Yormark as a “go-getter” with experience making entities “more competitive, more…television-worthy” — two essential attributes for a collegiate athletic conference.
The coach also has plenty of experience in the realignment arena. During his time at Cincinnati, the Bearcats switched leagues twice, from the Metro Conference to the Great Midwest Conference to Conference USA, where he won Coach of the Decade in the 2000s.
Huggins again went through that process at the beginning of the 2010s as WVU departed the Big East. That time around, he said he learned to not worry about it since he has no say in the matter.
Before everything was said and done in 2011, he recalled a lot of confusion, including one conversation he had with “one of the more famous coaches in the ACC.”
“He said, ‘Well, partner, we’re going to be playing twice a year now,'” Huggins said. “And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘No, you’re coming in our league.’ And for a while, everybody thought we were.”
That, of course, is not how the situation worked itself out, as the Mountaineers have competed in the Big 12 now for over a decade.
Huggins did offer some thoughts (including a friendly jab) on the potential addition of Gonzaga, a program run by his friend, Mark Few. Huggins’s Mountaineers and Few’s Bulldogs have squared off five times since 2012, most recently in the 2020 Jimmy V Classic.
Gonzaga has won all five meetings.
“I would think it would be a tremendous awakening for Gonzaga to get in this league and play who we play day after day, it would be a tremendous awakening,” Huggins said. “You don’t get to make your own schedule in the Big 12.”