West Virginia officially accepted an invitation Friday to join the Big 12, becoming part of what league officials envision as a 10-member conference -- without Missouri -- for the 2012 football season.
A news release distributed by the Big 12 announced the move but offered two interesting twists:
It states West Virginia will begin competing in the Big 12 for the 2012-13 school year, which conflicts with information provided by the Big East. Officials from that league said they plan to hold the school to the 27-month departure window specified under Big East bylaws.
It does not mention Missouri, saying instead that it is "expected that the Big 12 ... will be comprised of 10 universities" in 2012: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia.
Missouri, which is considering an offer to join the Southeastern Conference, has yet to withdraw from the Big 12 but multiple league sources have said they consider that move imminent.
TCU, a current member of the Mountain West, agreed earlier this month to join the Big 12 on July 1, 2012 as a replacement for Texas A&M, which moves to the SEC next year. West Virginia plans to join on the same date despite objections from the Big East, said school President Dr. James P. Clements.
Chuck Neinas, the Big 12 interim commissioner, said TCU and West Virginia will receive "the same" financial arrangement, which sources have identified as a gradual phase-in of league TV revenues before both schools earn full shares in 2015.
Clements said he notified the Big East of his school's withdrawal Friday, effective in 2012. School representatives, he said, are in discussions with the Big East about parameters. Clements said he is confident West Virginia "will be a full Big 12 member" by 2012.
In a statement, Big East commissioner John Marinatto said: "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."
The awkwardness of the situation was apparent in an afternoon news conference, when Clements regularly redirected questions about the dueling departure dates and Neinas conceded the Big 12 could operate as an 11-team conference in 2012 if Missouri does not depart.
Missouri's plan is hardly a secret. A news release announcing the Tigers' move to the SEC, effective in 2012, surfaced briefly on the league's website Thursday night before it was taken down. An SEC spokesman cited a mistake by the league's web vendor for the premature posting and the vendor issued an apology Friday.
But the Big 12 felt secure enough in Missouri's intentions to proceed with West Virginia -- rather than Louisville, which mounted a strong lobbying campaign over the past two days -- as the league's 10th member.
Neinas called it mandatory for the Big 12 to have at least 10 football teams next season to meet requirements for the league's TV partners, adding that additional expansion is "not on the horizon at this point."
Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis, chairman of the Big 12 board of directors, said he expects to collect binding legal documents by Tuesday that commit each of the 10 schools to the league for a six-year period. With that move, Neinas said: "The conference is solidified."
Asked about joining a league other schools are leaving, Clements said: "I view the Big 12 as very solid and very stable and a perfect fit for us."
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