"I object. Nobody told me I was going to have to go back to Manhattan." (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
As we now officially welcome the birth of Big 12 Mk. III, we really need to sort out how the new kids on the block are going to fit in. Now, with TCU, it's pretty easy; they already have an ironclad natural conference rival in Baylor, as well as long-term enemies in Austin and Lubbock. They've got some friction with Oklahoma as well, and even a bit of history with the pre-Snyder Wildcats.
West Virginia, though, seems to be a bit of a cipher so far. There was that upset of Oklahoma that we all like to giggle about, but really not a lot else on the football field to point to. This, of course, means that we have to look beyond the gridiron, and suddenly it becomes pretty obvious who West Virginia's main rival in the Big 12 is going to have to be.
To shamelessly paraphrase Walt Kelly: My friends, we have seen their enemy, and it is us.West Virginia and Kansas, as states, are inextricably linked by history. Kansas was the 34th state; 30 months later, West Virginia was admitted as the 35th. The admission of Kansas to the Union (and, probably more important, the shenanigans preceding statehood) was one of the fuses on the powderkeg which launched the Civil War, while West Virginia was born precisely as a result of that conflict. John Brown, already famous (or notorious) for his actions in Kansas, was finally brought to heel in Harpers Ferry, Virginia... the town which marks the easternmost point in what is now West Virginia.
So we have these historical connections which simply do not exist between West Virginia and any other Big 12 state. What other bizarre claims can we make? Well, for starters, there are now only two Big 12 states through which I-70 runs: that's right, West Virginia and Kansas. The same is true of US 40 and US 50, two of the nation's most historic federal highways. They are the two smallest states, by population, in the Big 12; bet you didn't realize that West Virginia is actually the smallest, did you? Both states sit on the mighty "arms" of the Mississippi, with Kansas bordering the Missouri and West Virginia the Ohio. (Of course, this is also true of Iowa, but nobody cares, right?) Neither state has a truly major professional sports franchise, no disrespect intended to Sporting KC, which everyone outside the area probably thinks is in Missouri anyway. Again, true of Iowa as well, but that's okay. Both states have two major universities playing D-I football, one of which is generally competent and relevant, the other completely pointless. We both have one -- just one -- completely annoying toll road, as opposed to none at all (Iowa) and way too freakin' many (Oklahoma and Texas). The official insect of both states is the European Honey Bee, while the official soil of both states is silt loam. Come on, that can't be a coincidence.
Then there's the contrasts. West Virginia's terrain is like a crumpled-up wad of paper, whereas Kansas is widely perceived as flat. (Okay, let's be honest: in cross-section east-to-west, it kinda is. North-south is another matter, but nobody wants to give us any credit for that.) Kansas is farmers and oil and airplanes; West Virginia is coal miners and coal and, ahh, "jet fuel". Straight from the still. West Virginians are often perceived as being just a leeeeetle bit crazy, whereas Kansans have a tendency to be seen as sort of dour and stoic as long as they aren't Fred Phelps.
Now, I feel we've put forth all the argument necessary to prove that Kansas, as a state, has all the reason in the world to rightly claim itself as West Virginia's primary rival within the Big 12. However, that still leaves the argument of whether Kansas or Kansas State should get to take precedence. Thing is, we can now drift back into sports to solve that conundrum once and for all by simply uttering two words:
There is exactly one school in the Big 12 which West Virginia already has a rivalry with in men's basketball, and it's Kansas State. Even setting aside everything else I've already pointed out above, that should be enough to stake our claim. Throw in the historical ties and other random connections, and then contrast the culture clashes between the two states, and it's all pretty clear.
Mountaineers, Wildcat Nation stands ready. We realize you can't come up with a chant as concise and pointed as that which you reserve for your true hated rival-you're-not-playing-anymore, but I'm counting on you to come up with something. It's time to get to work and learn how to hate us.