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CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

WVU aiming for 2012 start in Big 12, despite Big East's lawsuit

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West Virginia has given assurances to the Big 12 it will play in the conference in 2012 despite an ongoing lawsuit filed by the Big East that seeks to hold the school to a 27-month waiting period.

Big 12 Conference commissioner Chuck Neinas was not specific but told CBSSports.com that West Virginia had told the league before and after the Big East filed suit on Nov. 4 that it would be in the Big 12 next year.

"There's ways to do it, and West Virginia is prepared to do it," Neinas said.

West Virginia AD Oliver Luck also told reporters over the weekend that his program expects to be in the Big 12 in 2012.

"We were fortunate to get out," Luck told the Charleston Gazette. "We got out [of the Big East] when the ship was seriously going down. I mean, only the tip of the sail was showing."

Luck said he was concerned about the Big East's BCS automatic-qualifying status going away. There has been speculation that commissioners could do away with AQ status in the next evolution of the college football postseason beginning in 2014. That would significantly influence which conferences are considered "major" in the future. Specifically, the ACC and Big East could be affected.

"If the goal is to go to a BCS game, it's better to play in one of the power conferences," Luck added.

"In my mind, if we do go back to the old system where conferences realign themselves with bowls, I can't see any of the big bowls wanting Big East teams."

The Big East did not have immediate comment about West Virginia coming to the Big 12 in 2012. West Virginia sued the Big East in Oct. 31. The conference followed with a countersuit on Nov. 4 seeking to block West Virginia's move until July 1, 2014. The Big 12 formally announced that West Virginia was joining on Oct. 28.

The Big East continues to hold two other Big East schools, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, to the same waiting period. The Big 12 was desperate to have at least one team in 2012 -- Missouri or West Virginia -- in the league for scheduling and financial purposes. Neinas said dropping below 10 teams would cause league members each to find an extra non-conference game on short notice. He also said dropping below 10 would affect the payout from television partners.

That would reduce the inventory promised to Fox which signed a new 13-year, $1.13 billion deal with the league in April. Also, having to play an eight-game conference schedule would require Big 12 members to schedule another non-conference game less than 10 months from kickoff of the 2012 season.

The Big 12 began playing a full round-robin schedule (nine games) beginning this season. The loss of Missouri would reduce the league to only nine members for 2012.

Neinas is still upset at the way Missouri departed, potentially leaving the league in a lurch. At some point in a 45-day period, Missouri switched from self-described loyal member of the Big 12 to the newest member of the Southeastern Conference, Neinas said. In addition, the school would not allow him to view a key 45-page document that spelled out a reported financial windfall for Missouri in the SEC.

"If an institution wishes to depart the conference, that's their prerogative," Neinas said. "But I'm not very happy about the way Missouri handled it.... I don't think Missouri is going to get any sportsmanship awards from the Big 12 Conference this year."

Neinas said that on Sept. 22 Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton "basically reaffirmed" that Missouri would have "a long-standing commitment to the Big 12 Conference." That was while Deaton was chairman of the Big 12 presidents. Forty-five days after pledging allegiance to the Big 12, Missouri officially departed for the SEC on Nov. 6.

Neinas still can't figure what changed. On Oct. 14, the Associated Press reported it had obtained a document that stated the school could make $12 million more in annual revenue by going to the SEC. The document had been shown to the Missouri board of curators at an early October meeting in St. Louis.

"I know some of the information in there to be false," Neinas said.

Neinas said not only was he not allowed to view the document, he wasn't told who wrote it.

"I believe it's very difficult to go to court and not see the other side's brief ...," Neinas said. "I felt that the Big 12 Conference never had an opportunity to speak to the decision-makers at the University of Missouri. Then when they decide to leave in 2012, giving us eight months' notice ... That put us in a bind. Fortunately we were able to accept West Virginia. We're doggone pleased they'll be here in 2012.

Missouri had no immediate comment. Neinas said he tried to convene a meeting of the six BCS conference commissioners the day after Missouri announced it was leaving for the SEC. He sought that all conferences would stand down on further conference realignment until 2013. He told CBSSports.com that SEC commissioner Mike Slive told him the SEC "could probably work" with 13 teams in 2012.

"The ball was in Missouri's court and they said, 'No thanks,' " Neinas said.

Neinas added that he doesn't know what changed in Missouri's stance "when the board of curators got involved." Deaton eventually stepped down as chairman of the Big 12 presidents as Missouri explored conference options.

Neinas also said that membership will remain at 10 for the 2012 season but that an expansion committee still exists.

"We will monitor the landscape," he said.

CBSSports.com College Football Insider Brett McMurphy contributed to this report


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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