SOMETHING HAPPENED between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning in relation to the West Virginia University-Big 12 mess.That something: Sen. Joe Manchin apparently spoke with WVU president Jim Clements or athletic director Oliver Luck. Or both.He simply had more information on the subject when he appeared on MSNBC's "The Daily Rundown" with Chuck Todd and, later, on the phone with me than he offered during his Wednesday press conference.Most know the story by now. WVU had agreed to leave the Big East and move to the Big 12. A press conference was planned for Wednesday. Then, out of the blue, the Big 12 board of directors slammed on the brakes. A New York Times report said the lobbying of Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) with Oklahoma president David Boren helped the cause of Louisville, another candidate to join the Big 12.
West Virginia's senators, Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, took note and action. What's interesting, though, are the words of Manchin on Thursday compared to those on Wednesday. They revealed part of the story previously hidden."I can tell you that officially West Virginia was invited to be part of the Big 12," Manchin told Todd. "We were very pleased. I'm sure it was done on the merits of West Virginia."He went on."After [Big 12 officials] made their selection, they contacted WVU on Monday and again on Tuesday morning to confirm they were in. WVU accepted. They even spoke specifically about finances. A press release was issued from the Big 12 to WVU officials that they would be using on Wednesday."Rooms were booked; flights were booked," Manchin said. "Then, all of a sudden, Tuesday afternoon . . ."The deal fell apart. For now. Manchin is hopeful."We're going to survive no matter what," said the senator. "We're going to succeed no matter what. We still believe the deal was made and the deal that was offered to West Virginia is still going to come through. That [deal] was they thought we were a valued school to be added to the Big 12."Specifically on the McConnell issue, Manchin said, "I don't think the Big 12 would stoop that low. I really don't think they would roll over because of political pressure."So when could this be resolved?"I think we'll know by the first of the week," Manchin said. "I really do. I don't think they'll let this linger, and they shouldn't let it linger. This was a done deal."Manchin, by the way, was in Morgantown on Thursday. Outside the state, Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance, a former congressman, confirmed McConnell called him as well to push for Louisville over West Virginia.
"Mitch McConnell talked about the merits of Louisville and nothing else," Hance told the New York Times. "Why shouldn't he be sticking up for Kentucky? I think the guys from West Virginia got caught flat-footed not sticking up for West Virginia."Manchin, though, has said he has no problem with McConnell making calls on Louisville's behalf before the selection. Calling afterward is where Manchin sees a sticking point.Anyway, comments of interest from out of state came from the updated Times article and one from Austin, Texas.In the Times story, Hance said he understood WVU offered greater television appeal than Louisville, but said Texas Tech was concerned about travel difficulties."The opposition to West Virginia had to do with distance," Hance said. He later added that "all this TV stuff is important, but it's not as important as the student-athlete."I know. I hope you've finished your breakfast before reading that last sentence. When administrators say they're looking out for student-athletes, odds are that's when they're not looking out for student-athletes.
More interesting, however, was the American-Statesman story out of the Longhorn State. It claimed the issue won't be decided for "at least several days" because of a split within the league regarding the two schools.Another administrator said those within the Big 12 are "going to let both of them make a formal pitch next week. Our board of directors is meeting next week."I read Manchin the quote."I'm sure [a formal presentation] was requested earlier," said the senator. "But as far as I'm concerned we did that dance. I'm very hopeful this might be resolved by [today]."He hinted WVU was having phone meetings with the Big 12 on Thursday.As for the claim the Big 12 might take "several days," Manchin said, "I guarantee this will not linger. You can't let this ferment."So there's conflicting data. This thing could pop today. It could pop next week.Whatever the case, Manchin is watching."I've seen the press release [sent by the Big 12 to WVU to issue on Wednesday]," said the senator. "There's no doubt we were invited. It's all there and documented."Manchin continues to say if Louisville is the choice, in the face of the aforementioned documentation, in light of the accusation of McConnell using political clout, he'll ask Rockefeller's Commerce Committee to investigate.For now, though, Manchin said he's going to chill. He hopes WVU fans will, too."The calmer we can stay now, the better," Manchin said. "We're going to take the Big 12 at its word."And see where it gets WVU.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, email@example.com
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