While the Big 12 waits on a final declaration from Missouri about its plans to move to another league, Louisville has mounted a last-minute push to try and secure the spot that conference officials indicated will belong to West Virginia.
A day after multiple Big 12 sources said they were prepared to invite West Virginia to become the league’s 10th member, assuming a departure by Missouri, some league administrators today have begun pitching Louisville instead.
There is speculation that the Big 12 might now be inclined to invite both schools as a compromise measure to minimize dissension within the ranks and to enhance league credibility going forward.
One thing is certain. The Big 12’s expansion efforts have gotten political. In a big way.
A league source confirmed a New York Times report from earlier today about a lobbying effort led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate minority leader, as a factor in the current state of flux. The newspaper reported that McConnell lobbied Oklahoma President David Boren, a former senator, to include Louisville in its expansion plans.
A spokesman in McConnell’s office in Washington, D.C. said: “We do not have a comment on that.”
But two senators from West Virginia have taken matters into their own hands. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has scheduled a 5 p.m. (CDT) news conference in Charleston, W.Va. to address the realignment issue. Both Manchin and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), the state’s other senator, released statements about the surprising turn of events on the realignment front.
“The Big 12 picked WVU on the strength of its program _ period,” Rockefeller said. “Now the media reports that political games may upend that. That’s just flat wrong. I am doing and will do whatever it takes to get us back to the merits.”
In his statement, Manchin said: “If a U.S. Senator has done anything inappropriate or unethical to interfere with a decision that the Big 12 had already made, then I believe there should be an investigation in the U.S. Senate and I will fight to get the truth.”
Multiple league sources have said that Big 12 television partners favor West Virginia as the league’s 10th team if Missouri departs because it offers higher television ratings for football than Louisville and would allow the league to maximize the value of existing TV contracts once Missouri and Texas A&M leave the league.
It remains unclear whether the split opinion will be enough to impact West Virginia’s bid to become a Big 12 member. One Big 12 source said today that the Louisville pushback represents nothing more than “a little slowdown” in the process because the TV partners favor West Virginia.
If both schools were to be added and the Big 12 expanded to 11 members, it could be a significant blow to the Big East’s expansion efforts. But in terms of financial implications for the Big 12, the difference between 10 and 11 members would be only a $1.5 million difference per year for each school based on projected TV revenues over the next six years.
_ Jimmy Burch