Pitt's move stokes fear for Brawl
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For 21 years former West Virginia football coach Don Nehlen gathered his teams on the morning of the Backyard Brawl and led them into one of the great rivalries in sports.
Nehlen and Mountaineer fans everywhere are struggling with what might become of the rivalry after Pitt and Syracuse bolted from the Big East to join the Atlantic Coast Conference, leaving the future of the rivalry -- and Mountaineers athletics -- in question.
"When I saw it come across the screen I said to myself, 'Man, oh man!' I can't even imagine football without Pitt and West Virginia in the same league," Nehlen said Sunday.
Rumors of a West Virginia move to the Southeastern Conference fueled fan and talk show speculation Sunday night, some implying WVU had already applied for membership in the league.
West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck had no comment, but did release a general statement regarding conference realignment in reaction to Pitt's move:
"There is no question that the landscape of college athletics is once again changing. West Virginia University has great tradition as the state's flagship land-grant institution, and we will continue working to do what's best for our university and its athletic teams. No matter how the college athletic landscape changes, there is no doubt WVU will remain a national player."
Exactly when the future of West Virginia athletics will be settled is unclear.
As recently as two weeks ago Luck talked about a potentially lucrative television contract up for bid in November 2012 that could solidify the future of the Big East. But with the conference reduced to seven football schools -- with the possibility of others departing -- it could be moot.
For now, the Big East has a 27-month waiting period for any school looking to withdraw. That could mean at least two more guaranteed years of the Backyard Brawl. But it's also unclear if that could change.
Former West Virginia quarterback Rasheed Marshall, who grew up in the shadow of Pitt's campus, said the weight of the rivalry was palpable.
"Oh yeah, that doesn't go away, even through the offseason. It's that strong," said Marshall, who played for the Mountaineers from 2001-04 and threw for 5,558 yards.
Since he returned home to Pittsburgh after a pro career he has made every Backyard Brawl.
As the ACC announced its new members Sunday, West Virginia fans had many questions.
"We've got to land somewhere," said Nehlen. "If it's the SEC, it's the SEC. But that's a major deal. Are you going to win consistently in the SEC? Sure we can play with teams in the SEC, but you play six of 'em in a row? It's a different story."
First Published September 19, 2011 12:00 am