WHILE THE annual angst was swirling around college football coaches and fans, a more important issue continued to play out in regard to West Virginia University's athletic program.Specifically, the issue of the program's conference affiliation.You might recall from a Jan. 25 Gazette story, Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas said he'd like to "make the record clear for folks in West Virginia."He gave it a stab by saying his conference has "a schedule with West Virginia" and that it has "a contractual commitment with our television partners that we must release a schedule by Feb. 1 and we will do that."
As of late evening Wednesday, Feb. 1, however, no schedule had been released - at least to the fans, media, etc. Calls and an email to Big 12 associate commissioner Bob Burda were made and around 8 p.m. a reply was received. Said it:"The Big 12 Conference has provided a 10-team 2012 football schedule to its television partners and expects to release it publicly in the near future."The mention of 10 teams means the schedule sent to TV partners Fox and ABC/ESPN includes WVU and TCU.The delay is curious, however, considering the certainty of Neinas and his statements. The obvious conclusion is the delay is linked to WVU's dueling lawsuits with the Big East. As you surely know, the Mountaineers are attempting to flee the Big East for the Big 12 in time for next season.One source in the know, however, said it would be a mistake to assume the delay is totally driven by WVU's situation. So there might be issues with other schools. Perhaps the TV partners want to move games around.When reached Wednesday, WVU athletic director Oliver Luck said he couldn't "comment on that. It's an issue for the [Big 12] conference."In regard to the legal issue, Monongalia Circuit Judge Russell Clawges basically allowed WVU to retain its half of a home court advantage, refusing to put the school's lawsuit against the Big East on hold while the league's suit plays out in Rhode Island. So nothing has changed there.It's just a bit curious. One source said the schedule could be released on the Big 12's website today or Friday. One report said the Big 12 would release its schedule next week. Mediation ordered by a Rhode Island judge, however, isn't scheduled until Feb. 9.If, by the way, you've wondered how the Big East is handling the scheduling issue, a call was placed to the league's associate commissioner, John Paquette. He was asked when the Big East schedules were forthcoming.After a long pause, he answered."Did you hear the silence?" he said. "That's because I'm not sure yet. We don't have a particular date."
The Big 12 has shown that to be its case as well.nn
While Luck was on the line, I asked about his rumored candidacy in regard to the Big 12 commissioner position. Neinas has been serving on an interim basis."I'd rather be on the search committee," Luck said.He was asked point-blank if he's interested in the Big 12 job."No," Luck said. "I'm very happy with what I'm doing. We have lots to do here yet. I'm happy being on [school president] Jim Clements' team."
Luck said he knows little about the Big 12 search process, except that the schools would like a permanent commissioner "fairly soon." Among the others rumored to be interested are Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky, NCAA interim vice president of championships Greg Shaheen and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick.nn
And finally . . .It's always interesting to follow recruiting on national signing day. As for WVU, though, the same movie - for the most part - plays over and over. Mountaineer coaches flirt with four- and five-star players. Most, if not all, go elsewhere. And those Mountaineer coaches win with the three-star kids that blossom.Of the six prospects WVU was still targeting last week, the Mountaineers landed two: lineman Adam Pankey and wideout Travares Copeland. The four-star targets - Deaysean Rippy and Joel Caleb - went to Pitt and Virginia Tech, respectively. One I believed to be a terrific catch - defensive back Daniel Gray - went to Tennessee.What fascinates me is the wild swings in evaluations. Deontay McManus is generally considered to be WVU's best catch this year. But ESPN.com rated quarterback Ford Childress (already at WVU) higher. It rated linebacker Sam Lebbie higher. It had three others tied with McManus.That same site had WVU rated fifth - at least at midday - among the classes landed by Big East schools. Yet Scout.com had the Mountaineers atop the league and No. 26 nationally. WVU was rated ahead of schools like Oklahoma State, Rich Rodriguez's Arizona, Penn State and Nebraska.The process is fun, but bizarre. It's inconsistent and as subjective as a group judging the same painting in an art gallery.And it's changed. A bunch. Just ask Luck, also a former WVU quarterback."When I was a freshman," Luck said, "I came to Morgantown, checked into the Towers [dorm], and the first thing we had was a little media day. We sat in the stadium stands and no one knew anyone."I remember sitting by Sedrick King. He looked over and said, 'Oliver Luck? Damn, I thought you were a brother!' Now kids know everything about everyone."Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.