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West Virginia plays host to Big 12 reception

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By Josh Sickles
Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011

MORGANTOWN, W.VA. — After his opening remarks, Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas invited West Virginia president James P. Clements up the podium Tuesday afternoon and presented him with the conference's official admission agreement.

Much like a prized football recruit on national signing day, Clements donned a Big 12 hat, held the agreement aloft and exclaimed: "It's official!"

While the acceptance is official, there's still the issue of getting around the Big East's required 27-month waiting period for a member to withdrawal, but West Virginia officials don't appear worried.

Neinas, Clements and West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck — part of a Big 12 reception yesterday in Touchdown Terrace of the North end zone of Milan Puskar Stadium — voiced confidence that the Mountaineers will be Big 12 members in 2012.

"We were a very proud member of the Big East for a long time and a good member, but now, it's all about the Big 12," Clements said. "We are thrilled to be a member of the Big 12.

"It is a great conference. It's strong, it's stable from an academic standpoint, from an athletic standpoint, from a leadership standpoint. We couldn't feel better. The stuff with the Big East will work itself out."

In an effort to bypass the waiting period, the university filed a lawsuit Monday against the Big East.

Clements and Luck declined to comment Tuesday on the lawsuit.

Filed in Monongalia County Circuit Court, the lawsuit claims the Big East breached its fiduciary duty to West Virginia by failing to maintain a balance between football-playing and non-football members.

Despite the litigation, Big East commissioner John Marinatto is determined to keep West Virginia — plus ACC-bound Pitt and Syracuse — in the Big East for the entire waiting period.

"In light of the lawsuit filed by West Virginia yesterday, the presidents also discussed and confirmed our continuing commitment to enforce the conference's 27-month notification period for schools choosing to leave," Marinatto said in a statement. "The conference believes (the lawsuit) to be wholly without merit and will explore all its legal options to protect its interests and to ensure that West Virginia lives up to its obligations."

Neinas said West Virginia's acceptance into the Big 12 was contingent on the Mountaineers' ability to be a full-time member in 2012. The Big 12 needs at least 10 teams to fulfill its television obligations.

The Big 12 has 10 teams, but it's widely expected that Missouri will leave the conference to join the SEC. Neinas described Missouri's delayed withdrawal as "a hiccup."

Still, the Big 12 is prepared in case Missouri's exit is further delayed or if the Tigers decide to stay.

"The bottom line is we can take care of 11 teams, if necessary," Neinas said. "We can do it. We don't have it on paper, but our computers will work out to provide a schedule, which will accommodate 11 teams."

In terms of television rights, West Virginia will be treated like TCU, getting gradual increases in its share of the Big 12's revenue. West Virginia will receive 50 percent in its first year, 67 percent in the second, 85 percent in the third and 100 percent in the fourth.

Luck confirmed that even at 50 percent, West Virginia will make more money than it does in the Big East.

"Clearly, the television payout is much bigger than it is in the Big East," Luck said, "but we also will have additional travel expenses."

Luck said the university is starting to explore the additional costs of travel, out-of-conference football scheduling and preserving regional rivalries.

"We've just started to talk about that stuff," Luck said. "There's obviously lots of details. As we always do, we'll sit down with our folks. We'll make prudent decisions and do what's best in the interest of the university."

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