MORGANTOWN - After a hectic few days in which conference membership was characterized, if not compromised by political infiltration and the apparent inability of academicians to add and subtract, West Virginia was able to exhale Friday.Just not for long.The Mountaineers are in the Big 12 Conference. More importantly, they're out of the Big East Conference.This was a plan Athletic Director Oliver Luck said the school began to plot once Pitt and Syracuse decided to leave last month for the Atlantic Coast Conference, one the Big 12 was observing from afar as far back as when Texas A&M's decided to leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference.
It was complete Tuesday, so much so that the Big 12 was figuring out how the heck to get to Morgantown. If only it were as simple as it was to fax the press release announcing WVU's membership to the office of WVU President James Clements.Then again, travel was never an issue to the Big 12's people. The interim commissioner, Chuck Neinas, said a drive from the airport in Bridgeport to Morgantown is better, or no worse, than other travel itineraries in the Big 12.You see, this was a done deal Tuesday, but it was that night when, by the Big 12's admission, the membership, noted representatives of higher education, started to crunch numbers. Not mileage. Not the length of a runway. Not even televisions. This was about the numbers 10 and 11.If the league were to add WVU and Missouri were to stay, then the league would have to figure out how to function with 11 members. Ten is not 11 and a 10-team league could not function like an 11-team league.Oh no! This 11th hour, 11-team riddle caused a pause and subjected the Mountaineers to 48 hours of unnecessary nonsense, a literal fruitcake offered to them upon their arrival.
Every explanation in a conference call Friday aggressively avoided the alleged involvement of Mitch McConnell, the Senate's Republican minority leader from Kentucky, the University of Louisville graduate whose supposed role whipped West Virginia Senators and Democrats Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin into an understandable tizzy.The Mountaineers remained calm. Luck said he was confident throughout, but added, "I wouldn't be completely honest if I didn't say we didn't have a little bit of nervousness."WVU welcomed the move and the challenges it presents, though they may not be as numerous as first suspected. There will be more travel now, but not as much as many presume.The football, men's and women's basketball, women's soccer, volleyball and baseball teams will play in the Big 12 and play Big 12 schedules.Wrestling, gymnastics, swimming and diving, women's cross country and track and field, women's tennis and rowing will play their ordinary regular-season schedules, but compete in a Big 12 championship. Men's soccer will have a new home in a new conference.
The Mountaineers might have to add sports. Or they might not. Right now, all they know is you have to play certain sports. The Big 12 might only require, for example, 12. WVU has 17. But the Big 12 might require softball. WVU doesn't play softball.Big details like that, as well as facility upgrades, have to be settled. Nor will say they know what Missouri is going to do, although the Tigers haven't voted on anything of significance in the Big 12 lately. That includes the critically important grant of television rights that everyone else has agreed to and goes a long way toward keeping the signed members in the league for six more years, which carries through the current Bowl Championship Series and TV contracts.Every indication suggests Missouri is off to the SEC, though, and the desire is for WVU to step in and fill that void. It is there where things begin to get real tricky and where things could get real ugly.Clements said again and again Friday that WVU had told the Big East the Mountaineers were going to be in the Big 12 beginning next July 1. He said his people were working with the Big East's people, but that was news to the Big East on Friday.That's not a good start, not even with WVU already paying half of the $5 million it owes the Big East as an exit fee.
A full exit, either clean or controversial, before the Big East's chiseled-in-stone, 27-month wait, is going to cost a multiple of $5 million. And money matters for the Mountaineers because they're going to have to spend some and they won't be making all of what the other members of the Big 12 not named TCU will make.A source confirmed to the Charleston Daily Mail that WVU will earn 50 percent of the full Big 12 revenue sharing in its first year, 67 percent in the second year, 84 percent in the third year and the full 100 percent in the fourth year. That should be approved in a conference meeting Tuesday.The Big 12's television contracts alone pay $15 million per school next season. In the Big East in 2010-11, WVU made a little more than $7 million for television, bowl and NCAA Tournament basketball revenue.Should WVU be in the Big 12 next season - and that is the intention, no matter the cost - the football schedule has to change.A Big 12 schedule would feature nine conference games and three non-league games. That means WVU has to buy out one of its four non-conference games - either home against Marshall, at Florida State, home against Maryland or against James Madison at FedEx Field.The Marshall game has a $300,000 buyout. Buyouts for most of WVU's other non-conference games are around $500,000, but the buyout of the JMU game is said to be "huge," according to one person, and also guarantees the Mountaineers at least $2.3 million and up to $200,000 more.Exactly what WVU does is unknown because the school doesn't even know if it will play five Big 12 home games next season or four.By now, WVU doesn't have a problem waiting to see what happens.Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org