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WVU officials, Big East not sure what will happen next

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The Big East Conference dealt with two questions about its future over the weekend.

What just happened?

What happens now?

Syracuse, an original member when the conference formed in 1979, and Pittsburgh, which joined three years later, were quickly accepted into the Atlantic Coast Conference Sunday. The conclusion of a brief courtship jeopardizes the future of the Big East and all its leftover members, including West Virginia.

"I believe things will be all right," said Drew Payne, chair of WVU's Board of Governors. "How it's going to end up, how it's going to come down, I don't think we know what that will be, but we will be in one of the major conferences that survive."

WVU representatives spent Sunday on the phone calling around to evaluate the landscape as well as all possibilities and the potential of each. Separate sources said the Mountaineers had conversations with both the ACC and the Southeastern Conference.

WVU is open to remaining with the Big East if it adds members from the Big 12, but would also be open to the SEC. The Mountaineers have accepted that they do not match the profile for schools the ACC has chosen and would choose in the future.

Athletic Director Oliver Luck and President Jim Clements did not return messages. Luck issued a statement late Sunday afternoon reinforcing Payne's position.

"No matter how the college athletic landscape changes, there is no doubt WVU is and will remain a national player," Luck wrote.

Head football Coach Dana Holgorsen said he's not concerned with what he cannot control and trusts WVU's decision-makers.

"My total focus on the preparations for LSU," he said of Saturday's game between the 16th-ranked Mountaineers and the second-ranked Tigers. "I have complete faith in President Clements, Athletic Director Oliver Luck and our campus leadership to do what ever is in the best interest of WVU."

Payne would not discuss those specifics, but said they exist and that he maintained confidence.

"There are a couple of different options, but I think we'll be taken care of in the end," Payne said.

WVU has been in the Big East since 1991 and 1995 in basketball, but has been passed over by the ACC during two expansion episodes. The Big East may attempt to preserve itself by adding schools from other conferences.  

"I think we need to be - and if we weren't already, we better be - proactive in securing some other people," WVU men's basketball Coach Bob Huggins said. "Obviously, the two leagues that are getting attacked are the Big East and the Big 12."

The Big 12 previously lost Texas A&M to the SEC and is dealing with the uncertain commitments of Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The Board of Regents at Texas and Oklahoma are scheduled to meet separately today to discuss their futures.

In addition to losing Syracuse and Pitt, the Big East also is left wondering about the future of Connecticut and Rutgers if the ACC seeks to add two more schools to reach 16 teams.  

"I can't really get into what we need to go do next because I haven't talked to Oliver and Jim and I don't know what they've got in mind, but the Big East has to go get some people, some BCS people," Huggins said. "They've got to go get Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Missouri, Baylor, whoever."

Those names might not excite or satisfy most Big East fans, but it might be all that is left for the conference if it seeks to express with its reaction. Huggins cautioned against undervaluing those schools.

Kansas is the second-winningest program in college basketball history and was in the BCS in 2007. Baylor has a rising basketball and football program. The basketball team reached the Elite Eight in 2010 and finished No. 10. The football team beat TCU to begin this season and is No. 17 - one spot behind the Mountaineers.

Huggins coached the 2006-07 season at Kansas State.

"Kansas State is a great place - a great place," he said. "It has a tremendous following. They show up for games now. They've got a great fan base, a very loyal fan base. As long as Bill Snyder is there, they're going to have a good football program. As long as Frank Martin is there, they're going to have a good basketball program."

It may be difficult to convince everyone. UConn president Susan Herbst issued a statement describing the school's pride to be in the Big East, but stopping short of making an extended commitment.

"It is my responsibility as President that we stay in constant communication and be actively involved in discussions with our counterparts from around the country to ensure the successful long-term future of our university's athletic program," she said. "The truth is that our teams will play competitive athletics at the highest level of excellence, wherever things land, and our central goals will be academic success and compliance, always."

Big East Commissioner John Marinatto attended WVU's 37-31 victory against Maryland Saturday and spent almost all of the time on his phone. Before he disappeared into private, he said the conference had contingency plans for a variety of situations, but would not say if that covered losing the Orange and the Panthers - or anyone else.

"I'm not at liberty to get into all of that right now," he said.

He issued a statement later in the night saying he was "obviously very disappointed" with the news, but nevertheless optimistic.

"I continue to believe the Big East Conference is well positioned for the future and that the events of the past 24 hours will unify our membership," he said. "We have been working steadily to solidify and strengthen the Big East Conference and position us for our upcoming TV negotiations and I am confident that we will again emerge from this situation and remain strong."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.

 


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