Former West Virginia football coach Don Nehlen said he believes the SEC has some interest in the Mountaineers as it considers pursuing further expansion of the conference.
Asked Monday during the Scripps Legends Poll teleconference if the SEC has had contact with West Virginia, Nehlen replied: “You know what, I think they have. I think we have a shot, but I don’t know how strong it is.’’
The SEC announced Sunday that it has added Texas A&M effective for the 2012-13 academic year. The addition of the Aggies brings the number of schools in the league up to 13.
SEC officials did not return calls to confirm or deny that West Virginia has been contacted.
Former Georgia football coach and athletic director Vince Dooley said the SEC should “definitely” add another team even if it could affect traditional rivalries via potential divisional realignment.
“There are a lot of opportunities out there, certainly West Virginia is, Missouri, and there are some others,’’ Dooley said. “Based on where that (next) school comes from is how the conference is gong to end up dividing (divisions).
“It all depends on what the conference decides as to who is going to be the next team, which they definitely need to have one.’’
Dooley said if the SEC adds another school west of the current makeup, it would be “logical” for Auburn to move to the Eastern Division.
“But with doing that, you do have some scheduling and traditional problems, certainly Alabama and Auburn,’’ he said. “When we first went to East and West (Divisions, adding Arkansas and South Carolina in 1992), there was a great tradition of Tennessee playing Auburn every year. So even some of those rivals can change, and you could pick up new rivals in a hurry, particularly if you are in adjacent states.’’
Former Auburn football coach Pat Dye said schools can maintain traditional rivalries in the face of realignment.
“If Oklahoma and Nebraska wanted to play, they could play, and the same thing is true of Texas and Texas A&M,’’ Dye said. “These athletic directors have sense enough to arrange a schedule ... if Texas wants to run from Texas A&M because they go into the SEC, that’s Texas’ decision.’’
Meanwhile, West Virginia, which by virtue of bordering Kentucky would maintain the SEC’s geographical integrity, continues to evaluate its Big East affiliation.
“We’re homeless,’’ said the 75-year-old Nehlen, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. The Big East, everyone is running from it. We’re down to seven (football) teams now.’’
Nehlen said it’s his understanding the Atlantic Coast Conference turned down West Virginia in its expansion talks.
“They took Pitt and Syracuse,’’said Nehlen. “Pitt and Syracuse, add them up, and they can’t bring 5,000 to a (road football) game. They really can’t.’’
Nehlen said he’s aware television market size and academic prowess are two issues various conferences are considering in their expansion planning, but he believes West Virginia has plenty to offer in those areas despite what some might think.
“There isn’t any question we’re a small state, but I’ll tell you one thing, we got about 1.8 million and they are all tuned in,’’ he said. “We’re a land grant institution, we have our own medical school, we have our own law school and we have our own dental school; we’re pretty well thought of, I thought.’’
Nehlen, who coached the Mountaineers from 1980-2000, said fans got a good idea of West Virginia’s school pride and passion Saturday when ESPN’s College GameDay set was in Morgantown for the home game against LSU.
“We have such a great fan base,’’ he said. “You saw the game Saturday night. It’s a special place. Our stadium is as good as any of them.’’
Former UCLA football coach turned television analyst Terry Donahue, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000, said there are a number of reasons for the onslaught of conference realignments and discussions.
“I think the Texas (television) network has a lot to do with it, I think the instability of the conferences and people jumping has a lot to do with it,’’ Donahue said, “I think with bigger conferences, you can have a playoff game so you can get television revenue for a championship conference game; I think all those things are true.’’
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32