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Gee not concerned about conference affiliation

REMARKING — West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee delivered remarks to the Rotary of Wheeling Tuesday at WesBanco Arena. Among the topics were the concerns over the future of the Big 12 Conference with the recent announcements that Oklahoma and Texas will be leaving for the SEC. -- Scott McCloskey

WHEELING — Athletic teams at West Virginia University for now should forget about what conference they play in, concentrate on winning and “beating those Sooners and those Longhorns,” according to WVU President E. Gordon Gee.

Gee served as guest speaker at Tuesday’s meeting of the Rotary of Wheeling at WesBanco Arena.

While the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma have announced plans to pull out of the Big 12 Conference and move to the Southeastern Conference, the Big 12 still owns the media rights for any televised contests involving teams from WVU and the seven other schools that will comprise the Big 12.

The media rights contract remains in place through 2025, Gee explained.

“I think we all understand there is a changing dynamic in college athletics,” he said. “I feel very confident that the remaining eight members of the Big 12 will play as a league, and continue to play with our teams from Texas and Oklahoma.

“What will happen is there are going to be a lot of moving parts over the next several years, and we will make certain West Virginia University is a very integrated part of those moving parts.”

Some sports pundits have suggested WVU might want to align with the Atlantic Coast Conference and restart its celebrated rivalry with the University of Pittsburgh, as well as have highly anticipated games with Virginia Tech and the University of Miami.

But thus far, ACC officials have extended no invitation to WVU, according to Gee.

“I will tell you we are continually devoted to our Big 12 league and our Big 12 conference,” he said.

Gee is a member of the College Football Playoff Management Committee, which is presently considering a new format for the current playoff system.

He said he has suggested to the committee that any changes be delayed for now as major realignment of conferences will likely take place in the coming years.

Gee said his words didn’t go over well with many college football fans, who have indicated in e-mails to him they want the changes now.

Questions about WVU’s place in the athletic conference surfaced during Gee’s speech before the Wheeling Rotary.

“What I really think is going to happen over the next few years is there is going to be a major reconfiguration of college athletics,” he said. “We will be at the table, and when the music stops, we will have one of the chairs. …

“As I tell our coaches, don’t worry about conferences. Just win. Beat those Sooners and those Longhorns.”

During his speech, Gee spoke of WVU’s three-legged stool approach to success — which is focused on education, health care and keeping young people in the state.

WVU Medicine now operates 23 hospitals, with the potential to serve 80% of residents in West Virginia and outlying areas. Among these locally are the Wheeling Hospital, Wetzel County Hospital, Barnesville and Reynolds Memorial divisions of WVU Medicine.

Gee sees West Virginia attracting many as a place to live in the future. As more people are working from home, they will seek out places that offer a higher quality of life, but the state does need to increase its broadband offerings, he said.

“People want to move from vertical cities to find horizontal opportunities,” Gee said.

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