WVU's conference move on hold
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Not long after West Virginia University began to slowly spread word of its agreement to join the Big 12 Conference on Tuesday, people 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 the expected announcement to join the Big 12 was being delayed and that Louisville, which would be one of five football schools the Mountaineers would leave behind in the depleted Big East Conference, began to exert pressure on the Big 12 to consider the Cardinals instead of West Virginia.
The Mountaineers might now have to wait until the Big 12 board meets again Monday to perhaps decide whether the conference will accept WVU or Louisville.
It's also possible that Louisville is seeking inclusion with, and not in place of, the Mountaineers.
Still, there are no indications WVU is no longer part of the Big 12 plans. The delay nevertheless is a staggering development for West Virginia in sputtering story 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 told the Charleston Daily Mail on Wednesday morning the holdup is not about Missouri and its decision to 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.
Those sources said WVU was invited by and accepted into the Big 12 without regard for Missouri's decision, 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.
Tuesday night, though, 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 Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is a former student body president at U of L.
McConnell's office offered no comment to the Daily Mail on Wednesday. Members of West Virginia's congressional delegation are monitoring the story and are prepared to act on behalf of WVU, if asked. The offices for senators Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller are also tracking the developments and are ready to help.
"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 continued his statement by making 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 deciding to add Louisville doesn't automatically exclude WVU. The Big 12 could lose Missouri and add the Cardinals and Mountaineers and function with 11 teams like the Big Ten did for many years.
The Big 12 could also add WVU and Louisville and either keep Missouri or add another school to get to 12 schools.
There also is some reporting that Notre Dame may be in the picture as a 12th member, although not for football.
There have been reservations in the conference about growing to 12 teams and thinning out the revenue sharing splits. The conference championship football game that can come about with 12 teams also is not wholly endorsed because it adds an obstacle to teams chasing a national championship.
Conversely, if the Big 12 were definitely adding WVU and not considering a replacement, there would have been no need to cancel the planned press conference Wednesday.
On Wednesday, WVU sources remained hopeful, though not convinced, that Tuesday's delay would not end the association with the Big 12. That deal seemed certain Tuesday.
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 plan was paused 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, including the Daily Mail, said Big 12 representatives were expected on campus and a press conference Wednesday afternoon would officially announce the union with WVU.
The Big 12's deputy commissioner, Chuck Neinas, 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 that the Mountaineers were headed to the Big 12.
Both the school and conference were planning coverage for 3 p.m. (EDT), and the Big 12 office was preparing an official statement, one source said Wednesday.
About 5 p.m. yesterday, only a few hours after WVU believed it had finally completed the arrangement, the story changed and everything stopped and 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."