The Big 12 is still deciding: West Virginia or Louisville? Could be one or the other, or maybe neither.
Conference realignment took a strange turn Wednesday when, a day after it appeared that the Big 12 had decided West Virginia would eventually replace Missouri as the league’s 10th member, the Mountaineers’ Big East rival Lousiville re-entered the picture.
The result was conflicting stories about what happened and a U.S. Senator threatening an investigation — while the Big East was left to wonder not only if it had to replace another member, but which one.
A person with knowledge of the Big 12’s discussions told The Associated Press that no decision was made by the conference to add West Virginia, and that Louisville is still a candidate to be invited to join.
The person spoke Wednesday on condition of anonymity because the Big 12’s internal discussions are being conducted privately. The person added that a decision about expansion is not expected before next week.
On Tuesday, West Virginia to the Big 12 seemed to be certain after the Big 12 board of directors met the night before. But the person with knowledge of the talks said "no real decision was made on Monday" and the Big 12 is not committed to any school.
West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck declined comment in a text message to the AP.
However, another person with knowledge of the situation, also speaking on condition of anonymity because of the negotiations are not being made public, said West Virginia was preparing Tuesday to announce the move with a news conference on campus with Big 12 officials on Wednesday.
The school and the league also were working on a news release when university leaders received a call from the conference telling them to put those plans on hold, the person said.
"I think all of this should have great clarity within the next 10 days or less," University of Oklahoma President David Boren said Wednesday after a regents meeting in Lawton, Okla.
One thing seems sure — the Big 12 is going to need a replacement for Missouri, which has been working on a move to the Southeastern Conference.
The person with knowledge of the Big 12’s discussions said conference officials are not holding out hope that Missouri will stay, but said West Virginia and Louisville should not be considered finalists to become the Big 12’s next member.
"Those two certainly have been discussed a lot," the person said. "And I wouldn’t rule out other schools just yet."
BYU also has been considered as a potential new member by the Big 12. The person said no meetings have been set up with Big 12 officials and schools outside the conference.
"We’re still discussing among ourselves,’ the person said.
Big 12 leaders have also discussed possibly expanding back to 12 members, the number it had before Colorado and Nebraska left after last season and Texas A&M announced earlier this month that it was moving to the SEC. The Big 12 has already replaced the Aggies with TCU, another blow to the beleaguered Big East. TCU planned to leave the Mountain West Conference to join the Big East in 2012, but was instead diverted by the Big 12 to reunite with former Southwest Conference rivals Texas, Baylor and Texas Tech.
The person said it is unlikely the Big 12 would go the 12-team route and invite both West Virginia and Louisville in the process.
There were media reports Wednesday that Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell reached out to Big 12 officials to lobby for Louisville and that helped put the brakes on West Virginia’s invitation.
"There’s been outside influences for every school," the person said. "Everybody’s politicians are calling. I don’t mean that in a negative way. They’ve all been positive and no one has tried to coerce anybody into anything."
West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who is chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has oversight of sports, released a statement Wednesday saying that he, too, is involved.
"The Big 12 picked WVU on the strength of its program — period. Now the media reports that political games may upend that. That’s just flat wrong. I am doing and will do whatever it takes to get us back to the merits," he said.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, in a statement emailed to the AP, said an investigation might be in order.
"If these outrageous reports have any merit — and especially if a United States Senator has done anything inappropriate or unethical to interfere with a decision that the Big 12 had already made — then I believe that there should be an investigation in the U.S. Senate, and I will fight to get the truth. West Virginians and the American people deserve to know exactly what is going on and whether politics is interfering with our college sports," he said.
The Big East, meanwhile, continues to try to rebuild a football conference that has already lost two of its longest tenured members, Pittsburgh and Syracuse (to the Atlantic Coast Conference), along with TCU.
The league has been trying to add six schools — Boise State, Air Force and Navy just for football and Houston, SMU and Central Florida in all sports — to its existing six of West Virginia and Louisville (at least for now), Connecticut, Rutgers, South Florida and Cincinnati to become a 12-team football league.
Now it might be in the market to replace another member, though for which one remains unclear.
Temple was being considered by the Big East before it settled on the Texas schools, but the Philadelphia school could be next in line if Louisville or West Virginia leaves.
The Big East presidents have a meeting scheduled for Tuesday in Philadelphia with Commissioner John Marinatto. It’s possible the presidents could give Marinatto the go-ahead to start inviting new members next week.
He met with five of the potential new members, excluding Air Force, on Sunday in Washington to lay out plans for the potential new league.