West Virginia officially accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 this morning, becoming part of what league officials envision as a 10-member conference _ without Missouri _ for the 2012 football season.
A news release distributed by the Big 12 announced the move, approved this morning in a unanimous vote by members of the league’s board of directors.
But there were two interesting twists to the Big 12’s official release:
It states that West Virginia will begin competing in the Big 12 for the 2012-13 school year, which conflicts with information provided by the Big East. Officials from that league said they plan to hold the school to the 27-month departure window specified under Big East bylaws.
It does not mention Missouri when laying out the league’s configuration for the 2012-13 school year. Instead, it says it is “expected that the Big 12 … will be comprised of 10 universities” at that time: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia.
Missouri, which is considering an offer to join the Southeastern Conference, has yet to announce plans to withdraw from the Big 12 but multiple league sources have said they consider that move to be imminent.
TCU, a current member of the Mountain West, agreed earlier this month to join the Big 12 next season as a replacement for Texas A&M, which will move to the SEC on July 1, 2012.
TCU joins the Big 12 on July 1, 2012. Whether West Virginia can join on that same date, as laid out in the Big 12 announcement, is unclear. In a statement, Big East commissioner John Marinatto said: "West Virginia is fully aware that the Big East Conference is committed to enforcing the 27-month notification period for members who choose to leave the conference."
Big 12 sources have indicated they anticipate some flexibility on West Virginia's timetable once the Big East has completed its expansion process. For now, the timetable is clouded but the destination is not. West Virginia is the Big 12's newest member.
In a statement, Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis, chairman of the Big 12 board of directors, said league officials are “excited to welcome another outstanding institution to the conference” with the addition of West Virginia.
“The addition of West Virginia, while expanding the reach of the Big 12, brings an impressive institution with esteemed academics and a proud athletic tradition,” Hargis said. “This is another step in building a strong foundation for the future of the Big 12.”
Dr. James Clememts, the West Virginia school president, issued a statement calling the Big 12 “a perfect fit for West Virginia.”
“It is a strong conference that, like WVU, values quality academic and athletic programs and has a great tradition of success,” Clements said. “I am confident that the future of WVU athletics has never been more promising.”
This was the direction things were heading Tuesday on the Big 12 expansion front, when multiple league sources confirmed that West Virginia had moved to the top of the list among members of the league’s expansion committee and would approach to replace Missouri, once the Tigers officially moved to the Southeastern Conference.
That was followed by some hard lobbying by a pro-Louisville contingent, including Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate minority leader, that caused Big 12 officials to delay the process before Friday’s formal vote.
Missouri has yet to publicly announce its move to the SEC but the plan is hardly a secret. A press release announcing the Tigers’ move to the SEC surfaced briefly on the league’s website Thursday night before it was taken down.
A screen grab of the news release showed it was dated Oct. 22, 2011 with the headline, “Tiger Tracks: Missouri Joins the SEC.” It says Missouri “will begin full membership” in the SEC on July 1, 2012.
An SEC spokesman cited a mistake by the league’s web vendor for the premature posting and stressed that the SEC has yet to reach an agreement with Missouri as the league’s 14th member.
Big 12 officials clearly are convinced of the Tigers’ imminent departure, based on the omission of Missouri from today’s news release. Chuck Neinas, the Big 12 interim commissioner, said league officials are “excited to add West Virginia” to the league because the Mountaineers “bring an excellent overall athletic program to the Big 12 and allow the league to expand into an area that boasts a passionate group of fans and alumni.”
The school’s campus in Morgantown, W.Va. is located 1,216 miles from the Big 12 office in Irving _ much farther away, in proximity, than Louisville, Ky. But multiple Big 12 sources have said the Big 12’s TV partners preferred West Virginia over Louisville as the league’s 10th member because it brings higher television ratings for football and a history of more consistent success in the sport that drives the realignment movement.
West Virginia, the No. 25 team in this week’s BCS standings, is 2-0 in appearances in BCS bowl games, with victories over Oklahoma (2008 Fiesta Bowl) and Georgia (2006 Sugar Bowl).
The time frame of West Virginia’s move to the Big 12, while clearly spelled out in the league release, differs from information provided by the Big East, which announced plans to hold the Mountaineers to the same 27-month departure window facing Pittsburgh and Syracuse before those schools join the ACC.
Both West Virginia senators who became involved Wednesday in lobbying efforts for the school, the pro-Louisville contingent began clouding the Big 12’s intentions, issued statements today in support of the decision.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called it “a terrific day for West Virginia and for college football” because “the merits won out and WVU is back in the Big 12.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he was “happy that the Big 12 made its final decision on … the strength of WVU’s athletics, our academics and our spirit.”
Two interesting caveats to today’s invitation _ one of which should be of special interest to TCU administrators _ were reported by BlueGoldNews.com, a website that covers West Virginia sports.
Sources told the website that West Virginia will receive an equal share of the Big 12’s ABC/ESPN and Fox Sports revenues immediately upon joining the league. TCU’s cut of TV revenues, according to sources, will be phased in over time and the school would not receive an equal share until 2015.
Also: the website, citing sources, reported that West Virginia might be able to expedite its departure timetable by paying a $21 million exit fee to join the Big 12 in 2012. The same offer, said the website, has been extended to Pittsburgh in regard to joining the ACC next season.
Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.
_ Jimmy Burch