College sports need rivalries. Scratch that, all sports need rivalries. Scratch that, everything needs rivalries. Cincinnati is lucky enough to be in one of the best rivalries going. The Crosstown Shootout is a must-watch event and the blood boiling rage and hatred UC fans feel toward Xavier (and what those idiots feel toward us) is something special.
Unfortunately, the Bearcats don't really have an arch nemesis in football. Sure, not a single Bearcat is fond of Ohio State and some teams in the American Athletic Conference move the needle a bit (Memphis? UConn?) but none of those are really rivals. The Buckeyes are too concerned with Michigan, and understandably so, and there just isn't enough history with the AAC to really breed anywhere close to the hate that UC/Xavier brews.
As expansion talks continue to heat up, the benefits of being put into the Big 12 become more and more enticing. However, one of the bonuses that has not gotten as much play is the resurrection (or birth) of a perfect rival for UC. That would be the West Virginia University.
As much as the Big 12 is looking at teams from all over the country, this is a league that is based in the Texas/Oklahoma/Kansas area. Cincinnati doesn't totally fit that theme, but its close enough. In fact, its even closer than WVU, which looks like the awkward cousin that no one really likes standing off to the side in family pictures.
(Polished this map up by adding Cincinnati myself. No big deal.)
Morgantown isn't as close to UC as Xavier (thanks, Captain Obvious), but it is within just about 300 miles, which is half as far as Iowa State which is currently the closest Big 12 school to WVU and nearly 200 miles closer to UC than its closest AAC brother, Memphis. If you are going to build a rivalry, proximity is important. Most long-standing rivalries can't last if fans aren't constantly bumping into each other or yelling "Team A sucks" across the street.
The potential for nationally televised football games between UC and WVU will attract the most eyeballs, but the battle on the recruiting trail could breed even more contempt. Both schools have connection in similar states, with UC obviously pulling a bunch of its talent from Ohio, which is a state WVU goes fishing in pretty heavily. There are 19 players from the Buckeye State on WVU's current roster, including redshirt freshmen David Long, who was stolen right out of UC's backyard.
If Cincinnati were to move into the Big 12, its not as if it will suddenly open up a pipeline of Ohio recruits for WVU (or any other Big 12 school) but it will make competing for recruits against WVU that much more intense. In that scenario, if UC loses an Ohio prospect to the Mountaineers, suddenly it could be facing them in the near future.
Ohio would not be the only battleground that these teams would square off in the recruiting arena, as having a foothold in Big 12 country might push UC to become more aggressive in other locations, some of which WVU may be hitting hard already.
Unlike the shoehorned rivalries in some of the new conferences that now exist (*cough* UConn/UCF *cough*), UC and WVU wouldn't be starting entirely from scratch. Much like a nickname, you can't just claim there's a rivalry without any history or precedent. Well, unless you're Kobe I guess. His self-made nickname seemed to stick for some reason.
WVU and UC have squared off 20 times, with the first meeting coming in 1921. So, there's your history. We'll just zoom right on by the success rate UC has had against WVU. (3-16-1. Puke city). A good deal of those matchups came during the Big East era, but there are plenty of battles littered over the last 80 years or so. Not only that, but two of the largest crowds ever at Nippert Stadium came when West Virginia was in town for regular season tests in 2007 and 2009.
While the history here isn't incredibly robust, there is still a nice foundation from which a real rivalry could form.
Don't Forget Basketball
There really isn't a role available for hated basketball rival as long as the Crosstown Shootout takes place, however, there's nothing wrong with having a second-tier rival, especially when your primary enemy doesn't play in your conference. West Virginia could be the conference rival UC has been lacking, although UConn has been an excellent sparring partner and could potentially head to the Big 12 as well.
Just as in football, UC and WVU have played each other 20 times on the hardwood. Unlike in football, there has been actual parity between the two programs with each squad owning 10 victories against the other. Some great names on both sides have been involved in those clashes, including Yancy Gates, Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon and Deonta Vaughn for UC and Da'Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks, Alex Ruoff and Kevin Pittsnogle for WVU.
Let us not forget a name that would loom even larger and produce strong feelings on both sides of the scorecard. In case you forgot/have been in a coma for the last 20 years, Bob Huggins, the head coach that revitalized Cincinnati basketball and recruited the likes of Kenyon Martin and Danny Fortson, is now sporting a WV on his pullover.
When all is said and done, the benefits of shifting to the Big 12 are numerous. More money, better recruits and increased visibility are all on the list of things UC has to gain from the change. Adding a potentially exceptional rivalry is not high on the list of any school or conference president's priority list, but it makes the possibility that much more exciting. #Big12Confirmed