MORGANTOWN -- West Virginia is about to officially start "playing with the big boys."
That's the way one school official described the university's impending move to the Big 12 Conference.
When the school will be able to begin play in that league remains unclear, as do several other significant questions. But sources at WVU Tuesday not only confirmed the move, but said they were attempting to arrange a news conference with school and Big 12 officials in Morgantown to announce the deal today. Late Tuesday the Gazette learned there would not be one.
By late Tuesday night, plans for a press conference Wednesday had been put on hold, but the move still appears inevitable. The school issued a statement Tuesday night saying that no press conference was scheduled and a source in the athletic department said he was "99.9 percent certain" that none would be scheduled Wednesday.
That could, however, simply be due to the unavailability of Big 12 officials, who were thought to be scheduled to arrive in Morgantown today but according to sources now will not make the trip that soon.
In moving to the Big 12, West Virginia is in essence abandoning the sinking ship that is the Big East Conference, its home for football since 1991 and for most other sports since 1996. The Big East in recent weeks has lost longtime members Syracuse and Pitt to the Atlantic Coast Conference and Texas Christian University to the Big 12. TCU was scheduled to join the Big East in 2012.
West Virginia's entrance into the Big 12 was paved on Monday when that league's board of directors voted to admit the school. The Big 12 is in danger of losing Missouri to the Southeastern Conference and apparently wanted to be proactive and have a replacement at the ready.
Conventional wisdom seems to be that West Virginia's acceptance means that Big 12 officials have been assured that Missouri is about to withdraw from the conference and that only the details and exit strategies remain to be worked out.
And according to several published reports, that seems to be the case. Missouri officials reportedly were at the SEC's headquarters in Birmingham, Ala., Tuesday discussing the move.
WVU sources, though, said that their school's admittance to the Big 12 wasn't necessarily predicated on Missouri's exit. While they have no more idea of Missouri's intentions than anyone else, they say that West Virginia was not accepted into the Big 12 as a replacement for Missouri, but instead as an addition to the conference.
In other words, if Missouri does as expected and withdraws from the Big 12, WVU would be the replacement and the league would be at 10 teams. But if Big 12 officials are somehow able to convince Missouri to remain and not move to the SEC, West Virginia's addition would bring the conference to 11 members.
That would then leave the Big 12 just one school away from adding yet another member to reach 12, the minimum required to stage a lucrative conference championship football game.
Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton said Monday that the decision whether to remain in the Big 12 or withdraw and shift to the SEC, could happen in a matter of days or weeks.
West Virginia is currently a member of the Big East, which is once again attempting to reinvent itself after losing three more schools. In an effort to do so, the Big East targeted six schools for membership and voted unanimously -- including the West Virginia vote -- to raise the exit fee for football members wishing to leave from $5 million to $10 million.
That increase, however, does not go into effect until other schools begin joining the conference. So by notifying the Big East now, WVU avoids the doubled exit fee. It could also seriously cripple the Big East's attempts to attract new members because West Virginia was widely considered the centerpiece program of the league's remaining football schools.