West Virginia To Leave Big East For Big 12

  • West Virginia is running away from the Big East and joining the Big 12.
West Virginia is running away from the Big East and joining the Big 12. (US Presswire)
October 28, 2011|By PAUL DOYLE, pdoyle@courant.com, The Hartford Courant

The jockeying for a spot in the Big 12 Conference ended Friday, when West Virginia accepted an invitation to join the conference.

West Virginia, which will fill the spot created by Missouri's expected departure to the SEC, was on the verge of joining the conference earlier in the week. But Louisville emerged as an option when U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., lobbied on behalf of the school.

The Big 12 initially halted expansion plans while considering both West Virginia and Louisville. But conference leaders settled on West Virginia Friday and the Big 12 will remain at 10 members.

That means Louisville will stay in the Big East, which is rebuilding from the departures of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC and TCU to the Big 12. The Big East has targeted six schools in an effort to increase its football division to 12, but the loss of West Virginia may require the conference to increase expansion to seven.

Big East presidents and athletic directors are holding their annual meeting Tuesday in Philadelphia and plans for expansion are expected to be finalized.

"This move by West Virginia does not come as a surprise," Big East commissioner John Marinatto said in a statement. "League officials, members of our conference and the candidate schools to whom we have been talking were aware of this possibility. We have taken West Virginia's possible departure into account as we have moved forward with our own realignment plans. West Virginia is fully aware that the Big East Conference is committed to enforcing the 27-month notification period for members who choose to leave the conference. We are confident that in the coming weeks we will complete our own realignment program, adding a number of high-quality members to remain among the top conferences in both football and basketball."

The 27-month waiting period is also being enforced against Pittsburgh and Syracuse. But in a statement issued by the Big 12, conference officials say West Virginia will become a full member of the conference on July 1, 2012, and will be begin competing in the 2012-13 academic year.

Marinatto said at the Big East men's basketball media day last week that the 27-month period will not change and the issue is not open for negotiation, even if the Big East adds new members before the period expires.

West Virginia will also pay a $5 million exit fee because the Big East's increase to $10 million will be triggered when either Air Force or Navy joins the conference.

"The Big 12 presidents and chancellors are excited to welcome another outstanding institution to the Conference," Burns Hargis, chair of the Big 12 Board of Directors and president of Oklahoma State University, said in a statement. "The addition of West Virginia, while expanding the reach of the Big 12, brings an impressive institution with esteemed academics and a proud athletic tradition into the conference. This is another step in building a strong foundation for the future of the Big 12."

West Virginia joined the Big East as a football member when the conference created a football league in 1991. The school became a full-sport member in 1995.

The loss leaves the Big East with one remaining football program from its inaugural season: Rutgers.

"This is a very exciting time for WVU and Mountaineer nation," West Virginia President James P. Clements said. "I am confident that the future of WVU athletics has never been more promising."

Also Friday, Central Florida's board of trustees voted unanimously to authorize school President John Hitt to change conferences. Central Florida, a member of Conference USA, is among the schools the Big East is expected to invite.

The vote comes a day after the board of regents for the University of Houston voted unanimously to give President Renu Khator the authority to move the school to a new league. Houston, also in Conference USA, is another Big East target.

Marinatto met with Air Force officials Wednesday and Boise State leaders Thursday in an effort to convince the schools to join as football-only members. The addition of Boise State is seen as essential to the Big East's hopes of retaining its status as a BCS automatic-qualifying conference.

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