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Big 12 membership now up in the air

Not long after West Virginia University officials began to slowly spread word of the school's agreement to join the Big 12 Conference on Tuesday, they began to make calls to say the deal was on hold.

And now, as one WVU official said Wednesday morning, "Who knows?"

WVU learned Tuesday evening that the expected announcement that it would join the Big 12 was being delayed and that Louisville, one of five football schools the Mountaineers were to leave behind in the depleted Big East Conference, had begun to exert pressure on the Big 12 to consider the Cardinals instead of West Virginia.

The Mountaineers might have to wait until the Big 12 board meets again Monday and perhaps decide whether the conference will accept WVU or Louisville. It could also accept both schools.    

The delay was another installment in the saga that started last month when Pitt and Syracuse announced they were leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck declined comment Wednesday morning. WVU President Jim Clements could not be reached for comment.

Separate sources said Wednesday the holdup was not related to whether Missouri would stay in the Big 12 or leave for the Southeastern Conference, or about how the Big 12 could conduct a press conference introducing WVU if it wasn't sure about Missouri's intentions.

WVU was accepted into the Big 12 without regard for Missouri's decision, sources said, though it was presumed Missouri would be leaving for the SEC and WVU would be the 10th team in the Big 12.

That was the consensus of eight of the remaining 10 Big 12 schools. Texas A&M and Missouri did not vote.

However, on Tuesday night members of the league's Board of Directors expressed their desire to step back and to consider Louisville, which had been under the impression it was a candidate. Louisville is reportedly getting an assist from U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is a former student body president of the University of Louisville.  

McConnell's office offered no comment to the Daily Mail on Wednesday.

Members of West Virginia's congressional delegation were monitoring the situation and were prepared to act on behalf of WVU, if asked. The offices of U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller also were tracking the developments.

"West Virginians and the American people deserve to know exactly what is going on and whether politics is interfering with our college sports," Manchin stated Wednesday.

Manchin also made an apparent reference to McConnell:

"If these outrageous reports have any merit - and especially if a United States senator has done anything inappropriate or unethical to interfere with a decision that the Big 12 had already made - then I believe that there should be an investigation in the U.S. Senate, and I will fight to get the truth."

One source said Wednesday that a Big 12 decision to add Louisville would not automatically exclude WVU. The Big 12 could lose Missouri and add the Cardinals and Mountaineers and function with 11 teams as the Big Ten did for many years.

The Big 12 also could add WVU and Louisville and either keep Missouri or add another school to get to 12 schools.

Some media outlets were reporting that Notre Dame might be in the picture as a 12th member, although not for football.

There have been reservations in the conference about expanding to 12 teams and thinning the revenue shares. A conference championship football game with 12 teams involved could add an obstacle to teams chasing a national championship.

However, if the Big 12 were definitely adding WVU and not considering a replacement, there would have been no need to cancel Wednesday's planned press conference.

WVU sources remained hopeful that the delay did not mean their Big 12 association was off.

Earlier on Tuesday the deal had seemed certain.

Several sources on both sides of the negotiations said Tuesday and again Wednesday that the Mountaineers and the Big 12 negotiated a deal over the weekend and finalized it Tuesday.

The snag occurred Tuesday evening and a few hours later the university released a statement.

"Contrary to media reports, there is no press conference scheduled for Wednesday concerning WVU's athletic conference affiliation. There are no further comments at this time," it read.

Multiple media outlets said Big 12 representatives were expected on campus and a press conference was being planned to officially announce the union with WVU.

Chuck Neinas, the Big 12's deputy commissioner, also told members of the conference office the league would be on WVU's campus Wednesday for an announcement. Luck met with WVU staffers Tuesday and told the group the Mountaineers were headed to the Big 12.

Both the school and conference were planning a press conference for 3 p.m. Wednesday, and the Big 12 office was preparing an official statement, one source said Wednesday.

Then, about 5 p.m. Tuesday, only a few hours after WVU believed it had finally completed the arrangement, the situation changed without explanation.

One person familiar with the development likened it to "crossing the finish line and then being pulled back across it - an hour later."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142.


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