West Virginia is expected to receive and accept an offer to join the Big 12 once Missouri’s departure to the Southeastern Conference becomes official, sources close to the situation confirmed today.
Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton said today that his school hopes to announce a decision about its future conference home within “days, possibly a week or two. The sooner the better.”
Deaton made his comments during an interview on KFRU 1400 AM in Columbia, Mo. Missouri, which is contemplating membership in the Southeastern Conference, has yet to withdraw from the Big 12 but Deaton said administrators have “reached a firmness in where we are headed.”
Deaton said he abstained from most of Monday’s meeting of Big 12 presidents and did not vote on any issues at the advice of legal counsel. Multiple Big 12 sources have indicated they anticipate an imminent departure by Missouri, with the contingency plan calling for an invitation to be extended to West Virginia as soon as possible after Missouri’s departure.
Although a New York Times report quoted a source saying West Virginia had “applied and are accepted” for Big 12 membership, league sources indicated no official bid has been extended _ and will not be _ until the Missouri situation is final. One league source said the plan to approach West Virginia is “done.”
Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, a member of the league’s five-person expansion committee, said Saturday that Big 12 officials were prepared to “make a decision quickly” if Missouri departs.
Both the Charleston Daily Mail and the Charleston Gazette posted reports on their websites today about West Virginia’s imminent move to the Big 12, saying a formal announcement is expected soon.
A West Virginia departure from the Big East, under Big East bylaws, could not occur until June 30, 2014 and would require the school to pay a $5 million exit fee. The exit fee would increase to $10 million if the Big East adds teams before West Virginia departs. But the timetable, at this juncture, would be the same as the 2014 departure date facing fellow Big East members Syracuse and Pittsburgh before they join the ACC.
Big 12 sources indicated they expect some flexibility on West Virginia’s departure date once the Big East finds replacement schools. Big East officials are courting multiple schools, including SMU and Houston, in efforts to create a 12-team football league.
In terms of realignment, one source said: “Deadlines and requirements, at the end of the day, seem to be nothing more than guideposts.”
Missouri officials have expressed a desire to move to the SEC for the 2012 football season, a timetable that conflicts with the plan outlined Oct. 11 by Chuck Neinas, the Big 12 interim commissioner. Neinas said he envisions Missouri being part of a 10-team Big 12 during the 2012-13 school year, along with newcomer TCU, regardless of where the Tigers anchor their sports teams for the long haul.
One Big 12 source suggested that West Virginia might be able to replace Missouri on the league’s 2012 football schedules when the latest wave of expansion is complete. But such a timetable seems unlikely at this juncture. From a Big 12 perspective, Neinas and other league officials have stressed that a 10-team configuration for next football season is imperative to provide enough games to meet existing contracts with TV partners.
“With only nine teams, that could be a challenge,” Castiglione said Saturday.
Although the topic was discussed Monday, Big 12 officials have yet to reach a consensus about whether the league should operate as a 10- or 12-member conference for the long haul. The priority at this point is to establish a 10-team nucleus with West Virginia replacing Missouri _ assuming the Tigers are SEC-bound _ and to consider additional expansion once that move is final. If the league moves to 12 teams, the next expansion targets appear to be Louisville and Brigham Young.
Asked today about a timetable for Missouri’s anticipated move to the SEC, Deaton said: “These are not decisions that can just be made at the press of a button. We are not delaying anything beyond what has to be delayed to make the right decision … Our head has to outweigh our heart in achieving some of our objectives because our heart might not lead us in the right direction for the University of Missouri.”
League sources have confirmed recent discussions about Notre Dame anchoring its non-football sports in the Big 12, rather than the Big East, while scheduling some football games against league schools to add value to existing and future TV contracts. But that idea remains only in the discussion stages and Notre Dame officials have indicated they plan to wait and see what happens in regard to Big East expansion before deciding if they would move their non-football sports to another league.
At this point, a Big 12 source said the league’s expansion committee is focused on adding teams that would be full members of the conference rather than partial members.
Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.
_ Jimmy Burch