CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Sen. Jay Rockefeller said sudden complaints about flight access to Morgantown from Big 12 country are "ridiculous," especially since conference officials have been told the state stands ready to expand the city's airport.
"We've made it clear at every level to the Big 12 Conference that we're ready and willing to extend the runway if that's crucial," he said in a statement issued to the Daily Mail.
"I've already been exploring options with the FAA this week, and I know the state has done the same with the airport."
After WVU's bid to join the Big 12 was placed on hold earlier this week, some representatives from Big 12 schools voiced new concerns about traveling to Morgantown.
The most notable of those complaints came from billionaire energy investor T. Boone Pickens - a major donor to Oklahoma State University.
In an interview with Oklahoma news outlet NewsOK, Pickens cited Morgantown's lack of immediate air access as one of his biggest concerns about adding the Mountaineers.
"As I remember, you've got to fly into Pittsburgh and then drive a couple hours," Pickens said. "That's pretty isolated."
However, some are saying these complaints amount to nothing more than a red herring to cover up political involvement from U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who reportedly has been lobbying hard to get his alma mater University of Louisville into the conference.
The New York Times has reported that McConnell contacted both Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance, a former congressman, and Oklahoma University President David Boren, a former U.S. senator.
Pickens' complaints seem particularly curious considering Oklahoma State, like Morgantown, is located roughly 70 miles from any major airport.
Now, Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is calling out those complaints.
"Frankly, made-up worries from the Big 12 about our airports are ridiculous," Rockefeller said in the statement. "The Big 12 already made a decision in WVU's favor with a full grasp of the details, including about our runways.
"Suddenly, Morgantown's airport is a problem? I don't buy it."
Rockefeller said WVU seems to have airport access comparable to other Big 12 schools, when the runway lengths and driving distances of their closest airports are analyzed.
Teams flying in to play WVU use either North Central West Virginia Airport in Bridgeport, Harrison County, about 35 miles south of Morgantown, or Pittsburgh International, about 70 miles north.
By comparison, Iowa State University is about a 40-minute drive from any airport, while Kansas State University is the most isolated of any school. That campus is 130 miles from any major airport.