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Big 12 head says WVU will be on schedule

CHARLESTON, W.Va. --  Interim Big 12 Conference Commissioner Chuck Neinas said he'd like to "make the record clear for folks in West Virginia."

On Wednesday, he did just that.

In an interview with the Gazette, Neinas said he's been assured by officials at West Virginia University that the Mountaineers will be part of the Big 12 next fall -- and a football schedule will be released by Feb 1, less than a week from now.

WVU and its current conference, the Big East, are involved in a pair of lawsuits. The school wants to leave the Big East after this school year, but the conference maintains the school must stay for the full 27-month waiting period outlined in Big East bylaws.

Neinas, in a telephone interview from the Big 12 offices in Dallas, said it's "for West Virginia to comment" specifically on the lawsuits.

"But our conference fully expects West Virginia to participate in the Big 12, beginning July 1, 2012," Neinas said. "We've had continual assurances from [WVU] President [Jim] Clements and Athletic Director Oliver Luck [the Mountaineers] will be here to kick off the new year."

The Big 12 commissioner said his league hasn't made scheduling plans to move forward for 2012-13 without West Virginia.

"No,'' he said. "We have a schedule with West Virginia. We have a contractual commitment with our television partners that we must release a schedule by Feb. 1 and we will do that.

"Aside from our television partners, our schools are anxious to release their schedules and we'll meet the required deadline."

Neinas said he's talked with Big East Commissioner John Marinatto.

"I've had a couple of brief discussions with him," Neinas said. "We spoke in New Orleans at the BCS [football] championship."

The Big 12 commissioner wouldn't elaborate, other than to say "that's between John and myself."

In that conversation, however, Neinas more than likely uttered the name of Missouri, which is bolting the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference next season.

"The one thing that gets lost is we're in this predicament because the SEC invited Missouri," Neinas said. "But the SEC was willing to play with 13 [rather than 14] next season. We made an offer to Missouri that was financially beneficial to stay for another year. Missouri made the decision not to accept.

"We had a teleconference call with those in the SEC, Big East, ACC, Mountain West and Conference USA. We all agreed we could save money and avoid litigation if all held serve for 2012-13. All agreed. But Missouri made a very selfish decision. It's been very disruptive. Missouri gave us notice in November [of 2011] and it's pretty difficult to move forward then."

Neinas acknowledged the Big East would be in a similar position if WVU indeed jumps for next season. But he's not overly sympathetic.

"The Big East gets on planes and flies all over the country inviting other schools," Neinas said. "But they raise hell when West Virginia wants to come to the Big 12?

"We didn't solicit West Virginia; West Virginia solicited us -- as did other Big East schools. It seems to me the Big East has a double standard. And the Big East was talking about [automatic qualifying status to the BCS]. There's not going to be AQs in the near future."

Neinas said it does bother him one conference will be, in effect, without a 12th scheduled football game for next season, but added "it's not done, so who knows?"

When asked if he has a solution to the problem, he commented that he'll "keep comments to myself."

If West Virginia does jump next season, legal experts have said there's a likelihood the school will pay substantial financial damages. Neinas was asked if the Big 12 has considered helping the school cover such damages.

"That's an internal matter for our board of directors to decide," Neinas said.

The board of directors consists of the Big 12's school presidents and chancellors. When asked if the issue of financial relief to WVU is an agenda item before the board, Neinas said "that's a matter that's internal in nature."

Neinas said he's concerned the Big 12 could get dragged into WVU's legal battle with the Big East via an amended lawsuit.

"Sure," he said. "That's always a possibility."

The commissioner, however, pointed back to his claim WVU approached the Big 12 and not vice versa.

"And they were not the only Big East member to approach us," Neinas said. "Believe me."

Neinas also indicated those within the Big 12 seem content with 10 teams, including West Virginia.

"Our expansion committee is meeting [Wednesday]," Neinas said. "Our board has asked the committee to survey the national landscape. It will report to our board next week.

"But our members seem very comfortable to stay at 10."

If the Big 12 would move to 12 schools, it would have the option of staging a football conference title game each season. And if the league was inclined to give itself that option, now is the time with all major conferences expected to have schools sign over television rights for the foreseeable future.

"There's not much appetite for a championship," Neinas said. "Our conference has had experience with championships and is not interested at this time.

"We're not interested in divisional play. Our board likes round-robin play, where every team plays every other team in football and basketball."

Neinas said he expects the uncertainty surrounding his league, WVU and the Big East to clear in the near future.

"Soon," he said. "Let's leave it at soon."

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827 or mitchvingle@wvgazette.com, or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.

 


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