Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Updated: October 27, 8:30 AM ET
Source: WVU's move to Big 12 on hold
ESPN.com news services
West Virginia has been notified by the Big 12 Conference that its expansion process is on hold, a school source told ESPN's Joe Schad on Wednesday.
The Big 12 is waiting on Missouri formally to withdraw from the conference and that there has been some late "hard lobbying" by Louisville for Big 12 inclusion, the source told Schad.
West Virginia had been told that the Big 12 was willing to announce it would be adding the Mountaineers regardless of the timing of Missouri's departure announcement. That has changed, at least for now, the source said.
Earlier Wednesday, the Charleston Gazette reported that the Big 12 board of directors has what the newspaper called "put the brakes" on plans to expand. That comes after West Virginia issued a statement Tuesday night saying no news conference had been scheduled to announce a move to the Big 12.
The Gazette also reported that a visit by Big 12 officials to the West Virginia campus, scheduled for Wednesday, also had been called off.
The Associated Press, citing a person with knowledge of the situation, said West Virginia was preparing Tuesday to announce the move with a news conference on campus with Big 12 officials on Wednesday. The school and the league also were working on a news release when university leaders received a call from the conference telling them to put those plans on hold, the person said.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that West Virginia was in a "holding pattern."
"I think all of this should have great clarity within the next 10 days or less," University of Oklahoma President David Boren said Wednesday after a regents meeting in Lawton, Okla.
Tuesday had brought a flurry of activity that seemed to point to the Mountaineers leaving the Big East to join the Big 12.
ESPN reported that the Big 12 told West Virginia it will be accepted into the conference pending formal approval, citing a Big 12 source. Earlier Tuesday, The New York Times reported that West Virginia had "applied and been accepted" to the Big 12.
Wednesday morning, The Associated Press reported that the Big 12 "approved bringing in West Virginia to replace Missouri when the Tigers complete their move to the Southeastern Conference," citing a person with direct knowledge of the decision.
It is unlikely the Big 12 would go the 12-team route and invite both West Virginia and Louisville in the process, the Associated Presss reported.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that U.S. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, had lobbied Big 12 officials -- including Boren, a former U.S. senator -- to include Louisville in expansion plans.
Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance said McConnell called him two weeks ago to lobby for Louisville, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported.
"I've known him for years and he was just giving me the positive things about Louisville," Hance told the newspaper. "He's a Louisville alum and he represents the state of Kentucky. I think part of his job is to speak up for his state. He was doing what he should be doing."
The Democratic senators from West Viginia shot back later Wednesday.
"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," Sen. Joe Manchin said in a statement. "West Virginians and the American people deserve to know exactly what is going on and whether politics is interfering with our college sports."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has oversight of sports, also responded to the reports, saying in a statement: "The Big 12 picked WVU on the strength of its program -- period. Now the media reports that political games may upend that. That's just flat wrong. I am doing and will do whatever it takes to get us back to the merits."
Meanwhile, Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino told ESPN.com's Andy Katz that he is actively lobbying the Big East and its member schools to add Memphis and Temple, regardless of whether the Big East adds Central Florida, Houston or SMU.
Pitino said Wednesday he has expressed his opinion to Big East commissioner John Marinatto and wants the conference to seriously consider raising its basketball profile during what has been a turbulent time of conference realignment.
Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis said he still hopes Missouri won't leave for the Southeastern Conference, but that feeling is dwindling.
"Honestly, I don't have a lot of confidence," Hargis told the AP. "I think it's gone on long enough that it'd be tough. But if they stay, that's great. If they leave, we'll figure something out. There's no shortage of teams interested in being in the Big 12."
Neither Hargis nor Boren would comment specifically on the West Virginia situation, except to say that the Big 12 has options. Boren steered around a question about a Kansas City Star report suggesting Texas supported West Virginia as a new Big 12 member while Oklahoma wanted Louisville.
"I can't confirm the accuracy or inaccuracy of that report. All I'd say is Texas and Oklahoma are working very well together right now," Boren said. "You can draw your conclusions from that.
"I know of no differences of opinion we have on any subject without saying who's for who and what's for what, but we're working very well together right now. All the members of the board are. So, we're just trying to sort it out."
One thing is certain: Hargis said if Missouri does leave, "we'll definitely replace them."
"I think we'd probably initially do 10 (members)," said Hargis, who is chairman of the Big 12 board of directors and sits on the expansion committee. "But that doesn't mean we won't go to 12."
Joe Schad is a college football reporter for ESPN. Andy Katz is ESPN.com's senior college basketball writer. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.