Things turned ugly — and fast, too — today when word began spreading today that Louisville, not West Virginia as it was thought not 24 hours ago, could become the Big 12’s 10th member.
West Virginia had received a verbal invitation from the Big 12 yesterday, and the two sides were all but set to announce their marriage today via press conference. But, a late push from Louisville has sent the Big 12 into a mode of reconsideration, as it’s now being reported that the conference is “50-50″ on which school to accept.
Pete Thamel of the New York Times reported today that Louisville’s sudden burst back into the Big 12 discussion was courtesy of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a former Louisville graduate and political acquaintance of Oklahoma president David Boren.
Naturally, West Virginia’s own political body wasn’t happy about the reports. West Virginia senator Jay Rockefeller issued a statement saying “The Big 12 picked WVU on the strength of its program — period… I am doing and will do whatever it takes to get us back to the merits.”
At 6 p.m. ET, fellow WV senator Joe Manchin (pictured) held a press conference to discuss matters pertaining to WVU’s conference destination.
“Don’t fault politicians for lobbying for their school,” Manchin said. “[But if a] U.S. senator intervened after the Big 12 picked WVU, I will ask for investigation.”
Manchin added that the US Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation would be the ones leading an investigation if it was believed McConnell — or anyone else — intervened with conference expansion.
“I’m not accusing Senator McConnell,” Manchin explained. “I would expect McConnell to lobby for Louisville, but not after the Big 12 makes its decision.
“The Big 12’s commitment was stronger than just verbal to WVU.”
Louisville and West Virginia appear to be in a dead-heat to the finish line as they scramble to get out of the beleaguered Big East, despite the conference’s best efforts to close the deal on such schools as Boise State. Although it’s believed that WVU holds the key to the Big East’s future as a BCS conference, grabbing the Broncos would be a significant addition football-wise to a conference that so desperately needs quality teams.
The Big 12 doesn’t have that problem, but its preference is to remain at 10 teams if Missouri leaves for the SEC. Getting that 10th team has, obviously, been an issue.
“I literally don’t know what’s going to happen,” a Big 12 source told the Dallas Morning News.
“There’s been outside influences for every school,” another Big 12 source told the Associated Press. “Everybody’s politicians are calling. I don’t mean that in a negative way. They’ve all been positive and no one has tried to coerce anybody into anything.”
“Those two [WVU and Louisville] certainly have been discussed a lot,” the official said. “And I wouldn’t rule out other schools just yet.”
(Quotes courtesy of John Kirkhoff from WV MetroNews)