The Times West Virginian

November 2, 2011

Big 12 could help pay for Big East exit

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Chuck Neinas, the interim commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, said the conference would be willing to help West Virginia financially if it needs it in its effort to get out of the Big East in time to play in the conference next year.

The Big East is vowing to keep WVU the full 27-month waiting period that the contract calls for, along with paying a $5 million exit fee.

On Monday WVU filed suit to void the escape clause in the Big East bylaws, allowing it to leave without any waiting period.

There has been talk in the media that to leave early it would cost WVU $21 million, the figure being based on WVU’s worth to the Big East Conference (estimated at $8 million a year for two years) and the $5 million fee. That, however, has never been verified and the Big East bylaws are not public.

“We have not discussed (financial aid),” Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas said at a “Welcome to the Big 12” reception and press conference Tuesday, “but there are ways we could assist them. There’s no question about that. If it comes to that, I’m sure the board will give due consideration to that.”

The situation is a complicated one, with the Big East standing firmly against allowing WVU to leave in time to join the Big 12 for next season.

“We are disappointed that West Virginia has adopted this strategy and cannot imagine why it believes it does not have to respect and honor the bylaws it agreed to as a member of the Big East,” Commissioner John Marinatto said after reviewing the lawsuit. “Based on an initial review of the lawsuit, it is clear that the allegations and claims in it are false and inaccurate. Certainly there is nothing in it that would justify WVU’s not fulfilling its obligations. To put it simply, a contract is a contract.”

Then on Tuesday this came from Marinatto on expansion:

“Our presidents voted unanimously to extend invitations to specific institutions, including both football-only and all-sport members, to join the Big East Conference. I will be speaking to representatives of those schools shortly and look forward to announcing with them their acceptance into the Big East. The addition of these members will extend our reach, bring us to exciting new markets, strengthen our status within the BCS, and lay the foundation for possible further expansion, all while maintaining the high quality and standards our conference is known for.”

Marinatto did not name the schools he was going to invite to join the Big East. Of course, if he invites them and they are willing to join, as they expectedly would, and can get there in time to replace WVU there would be no reason to hold the Mountaineers back from joining the Big 12.

Other than Neinas’ statement about the possibility of offering financial aid to help WVU get its freedom, there was not much in the way of news out of the news conference.

WVU officials refused to answer any questions involving the litigation that was filed Monday.

Then there was the matter of Missouri, which is expected to withdraw from the conference but has yet to pull the trigger. What would happen if they didn’t?

That was what led to the holdup last week in announcing the admission of WVU, the Big 12 suddenly realizing it had to work up a plan for a schedule with 10 teams or 11.

“What happened was we talked about adding West Virginia as a 10th member, and the executive committee said, ‘Well, Missouri hasn’t withdrawn yet,’” Neinas said Tuesday. “‘What happens if Missouri stays or delays its withdrawal or we can’t work things out?’ So what we had to do was develop an 11-team (football) schedule for next year. And then when the board reconvened we explained it to them and we went forward.”

Then there was the matter of revenue sharing for WVU. The way it is set up is WVU and TCU, which also withdrew from the Big East to enter the Big 12, have the same setup ... 50 percent of what everyone else gets the first year, 67 percent the second, 75 percent the third and then a full share.

However, according to WVU athletic director Oliver Luck, the 50 percent share would give WVU more revenue than it would take out of the Big East next year.

And no one seemed to have any idea how many sports WVU would have to add as it joins the Big 12. It appears that men’s soccer, a sport that the conference doesn’t have, will continue at WVU on a high level, Luck having run a professional soccer team in Houston and being highly interested in the success of the sport.

“We’re just becoming familiar with the bylaws of the Big 12,” Luck said. “There are lots of details we have to look at. ... At this point I don’t want to say yes or no (regarding the need to add sports) because I’m just becoming familiar with the bylaws of the Big 12.”

One would suspect that men’s track will be among the first sports brought back to compete in the Big 12.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.