Representatives from the Big 12 and West Virginia held a teleconference this afternoon welcoming WVU as the 10th member of the league, and to answer questions about the decision-making process.
It’s been a hellacious week for WVU, who appeared to be on their way to the Big 12 as early as Wednesday. But reports that Louisville was making a late surge to overtake the Mountaineers caused the decision to be delayed until today. If you felt a breeze at all, it was probably the collective sigh of relief coming from the state of West Virginia, which wanted nothing more than to leave the sinking life boat that is the Big East conference.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous,” WVU AD Oliver Luck admitted.
Interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas hardly made mention of Louisville this evening or indicated that there was political pressure from senator Mitch McConnell, a Louisville graduate, about the Cardinals becoming the Big 12’s 10th member. On the contrary, Neinas said the “mystery” surrounding Missouri and the possibility of an 11-game schedule caused the 72-hour hold-up.
“We were moving forward, and we came across the fact that if we were to add a new member, and if Missouri remained or delayed their departure, we would ahve to look at an 11 member conference,” Neinas explained. “As a result, the [expansion] Executive Committee shared that info with the Board of Directors.
“The athletic directors and the Board of Directors agreed to move forward with 10 members… Expansion is not on the horizon.”
Speaking of the Tigers, Neinas wouldn’t comment on Missouri’s status.
And what about the rumor that getting to Morgantown was a central problem for Big 12 teams? “Blown out of proportion,” answered Neinas.
Wherever WVU will be departing from — Neinas mentioned the airport in Bridgeport, a half hour away from Morgantown — they hope to be doing so in 2012. In fact, Luck mentioned twice that WVU looked forward to being a member of the Big 12 “beginning July 1, 2012.” That date would be contrary to the one mentioned in a press release by the Big East, which has maintained they will hold WVU to the same 27-month waiting period as Pitt and Syracuse, who are leaving for the ACC.
When asked about getting out of that waiting period, Luck said “Our team and their are in discussions about how to work that out.”
As far as finances are concerned, WVU confirmed they sent $2.5 million in a wire transfer to the Big East today as part of the $5 million buyout. They will send the rest upon leaving. One of the reasons WVU wanted to leave the Big East as soon as possible was to avoid paying any more in exit fees. Big East presidents agreed to raising exit fees to $10 million, but the amount hasn’t been enforced yet. What amounts WVU will have to pay for leaving before the 27-month waiting period — if they can get out before then — remains unclear.
When WVU does get into the Big 12, they’ll be a part of a revenue distribution model similar to TCU’s, despite previous reports to the contrary. The Big 12 needs to stay at 10 members in order to fulfill their obligation with the Big 12 Network and to stay viable with their TV partners, so getting WVU to the Big 12 ASAP is a priority.
“Our TV partners and bowl partners are elated about the addition of West Virginia,” Neinas said. “West Virginia’s going to be on any [conference's] list.”
But, for a while, it looked like WVU might get left out in the conference realignment cold. The ACC showed no interest in WVU (they never have and never will), and West Virginia simply doesn’t have the TV market the SEC desires. It wasn’t until Pitt and Syracuse left for the ACC in September that WVU said they began evaluating their options.
“Clearly when Pitt and Syracuse chose to leave, all the remaining Big East schools had to take a step back and think about what was best for each individual school,” WVU president James Clements said.
Up until this week, WVU had remained one of the quietest programs in college football on the realignment front, and you can bet that was a premeditated approach. For having no natural TV market or recruiting grounds, and without being considered a top-notch academic institution, a ton of credit needs to be given to Luck and Clements for selling the Big 12 on the brand of WVU athletics.
Say what you will about the Stewart/Holgorsen debacle, or the beer sales at Mountaineer Field (for what it’s worth, the Big 12 doesn’t have a beer sales policy), but Luck put WVU in the best position to get out of the Big East without a plethora of selling points. The benefit of WVU is that it’s a good, self-sustaining athletic department with a value in viewership.
And the Big 12 took notice.
“We started looking at West Virginia when we thought we might lose a member,” Neinas said about the eventual departure of Texas A&M.