Holding Pattern...Again

The latest delay in West Virginia's hoped-for acceptance by the Big 12 Conference appears to be caused by two different factors – ones that may or may not have a relationship with each other.

On Tuesday afternoon, West Virginia coaches began receiving word from Athletic Director Oliver Luck that the school's move to the Big 12 was underway. By 10:00 p.m. Tuesday night, the process that was considered complete had turned into yet another stop sign, with two different items in play.

First came word, according to sources within the school, that some caution had appeared from the direction of the Big 12. Communications from that league indicated a desire "to slow the process" and put off any formal announcements by either the Big 12 or by West Virginia. At that time, the message was that there were no problems with WVU's membership, or with the agreement that had been forged to invite and accept West Virginia into the Big 12.

The problem, according to once source, was the fact that the Big 12 would be announcing that it had a replacement for a school that had not yet departed the league. That school, Missouri, continues to work through issues that it believes must be resolved before announcing its final decision – to go to the SEC or remain in the Big 12. While most every indicator points in the direction of the former option, the Big 12 likely was hesitant to provide Missouri with any ammunition as it attempts to negotiate the terms of its departure from the conference. Had a formal announcement of West Virginia's acceptance been made, Missouri could make the case that the Big 12 was not being damaged by its departure, and thus should be owed less in terms of a monetary buyout or penalty.

That angle was supported by conflicting reports on Tuesday, some of which indicated that WVU was in the Big 12 no matter what Missouri did, while others termed the Mountaineers a replacement for the Tigers. The Big 12, looking to avoid any controversy on that point, and certainly not wishing to provide Missouri with any ammunition for its case if and when the Tigers do decide to leave, then reportedly made it known to WVU that its admission process would be slowed.

Even with that, however, assurance came that there was no problem with WVU's candidacy. It was, as most matters have been related to conference realignment, a matter of timing – again, the wait for a Missouri decision seemed to be the holdup.

The second snag, coming to light early Wednesday morning, was that certain league members had pushed to consider Louisville as the potential replacement instead of West Virginia. The ultimate source of that push, in terms of the identities of the schools involved, or of possible outside political influence, is not fully confirmed, but the upshot was a halt just before WVU reached the finish line. One source with knowledge of West Virginia's side of the deal indicated that Kentucky politicians were involved in the later push to derail West Virginia's candidacy. Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell was named as the legislator involved in a Tuesday report by the New York Times.

Whether or not the original delay was related to the second, or involved the same schools, is still in question. The source said that optimism at West Virginia was still strong, and that the belief existed that the WVU administration would still be able to finalize the admission process and get West Virginia into the Big 12. That view is not shared in other reports however, so the situation, which looked to be clearing rapidly on Tuesday, is now murky at best.

While both of these angles continue to develop, one constant remains. From the start of the realignment process, time as been something of an enemy for West Virginia. For every hour that passes without a Missouri decision, other schools and their proponents have 60 minutes with which to reconsider proposals and advance their own agendas. WVU was within hours of securing its future on Tuesday night, but it is now apparent that the waiting game has begun anew.


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