Short trips and simple bus rides are a thing of the past at West Virginia.
Since the Mountaineers left the Big East to join the Big 12 in 2012, a conference road game means a trip to the airport.
"We take planes, we don’t drive anymore," said Michael Szul, West Virginia’s senior associate athletic director for Business Operations. "But it’s been very good for us, we’re happy with it."
As speculation surrounding the Big 12 and potential expansion has increased, the impact of location and travel on the decision-making process has become a common question.
The Mountaineers, as the Big 12’s lone East Coast team, provide a little glimpse into how travel costs have impacted a school that has changed conferences in recent years. During their time in the Big East, travel was shorter and simpler for the Mountaineers, but the move to the Big 12 has sparked a jump in travel expenses and resulted in longer travel days.
Since joining the Big 12 prior to the 2012-2013 school year, West Virginia has seen its team travel expenses increase by an average of about $3 million per year. In West Virginia’s first three years in the Big 12, the university’s athletic department spent an average of $7.55 million on team travel. During the previous three years in the Big East, West Virginia’s team travel expenses cost an average of $4.79 million dollars.
Travel time has also increased, with driving to conference games no longer an option. A trip to South Florida (two hours) represented one of the longer flights necessary in the Big East. In the Big 12, Iowa State (two-hour flight) is the closest trip for the Mountaineers, with Texas Tech (a flight of more than three hours) as the longest destination.
Revenue is on the rise as well, however.
During its first three years in the Big 12, West Virginia’s average yearly revenue was $82.36 million dollars. During the previous three years in the Big East, West Virginia’s average yearly revenue was $67.51 million dollars. And the Mountaineers didn’t even receive a full share of the Big 12 money during those first three years, with 2016 as the first year the school will receive a full share since joining the conference after receiving partial shares since becoming a member.
The cost and time increase have been a challenge, but not major obstacles for West Virginia. Being asked to familiarize itself with a new conference landscape and all that entails has been a bigger obstacle.
"You had a blueprint of where you were going in previous years," Szul said. "Then you had to go somewhere new and learn that whole city. Where you’re going, where you’re going to stay for football, where you’re going to stay for basketball, where you’re going to stay for your Olympic sports.
"It’s relearning the curve so to speak."
West Virginia was a full member of the Big East from 1995 until 2011, when it decided to accept the Big 12’s invitation to join the conference for the 2012-13 school year. Road trips to places like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Connecticut had become seamless over the years.
But expansion and realignment meant West Virginia was faced with learning a new landscape, with the help of the rest of the Big 12, once the decision was made to change conferences.
"The Big 12 schools were great," Szul said. "They told us where everything was, they did an outstanding job (helping us learn), both the conference office and member institutions."