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West Virginia leaving Big East for Big 12

By Ralph D. Russo

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 28 2011 7:00 p.m. MDT

The Big 12 welcomed West Virginia from the Big East and bid goodbye to Missouri before the Tigers even had a chance to finalize their move to the Southeastern Conference.

Now that the poaching of the Big East seems to be over, the beleaguered league is not backing down. It has been busy courting six schools and says it was braced for the latest loss. And despite what the Big 12 says, the Big East plans to keep West Virginia for two more years — just as it has vowed to keep Pittsburgh and Syracuse away from the Atlantic Coast Conference until 2014.

The latest round of conference realignment appears to be winding down, but tug-o-war over who goes where when likely will take a while to sort out.

The Big 12 completed its work Friday by adding West Virginia to become its easternmost member, joining Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, TCU and Iowa State.

The Big 12 said it expects to have 10 schools for the 2012-13 season, listing West Virginia but not Missouri, which is expected to complete its move to the SEC any day now.

"I wouldn't say that there won't be further expansion," interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas said on a conference call Friday evening. "But our mission was ... to move forward with 10 teams at this point. That doesn't mean that there wouldn't be further consideration. But right now, we've got our house in order. We've got everybody signed up. We're looking forward to a very aggressive conference."

Ames, Iowa, is the closest Big 12 campus to Morgantown, W.Va., at 870 miles away, but that hardly matters. The Mountaineers bring a football program that has consistently been ranked in the Top 25 in recent years, and that's what counts most when it comes time to sell TV rights.

In April, the conference signed a 13-year TV deal with Fox worth $1.17 billion that kicks in next year and was based upon the league having 10 members.

The Big 12 leaders voted to add West Virginia, rather than closer Big East rival Louisville, on Friday morning.

"The addition of West Virginia, while expanding the reach of the Big 12, brings an impressive institution with esteemed academics and a proud athletic tradition into the Conference. This is another step in building a strong foundation for the future of the Big 12," said Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis, the chairman of the Big 12 board of directors.

West Virginia is one of the founding members of the Big East's football conference, created in 1991. Of the eight original members, only Rutgers remains. The Big East is trying to reconfigure itself as a 12-team football league and has been pitching itself to six schools, including Boise State. Now it will need seven to get to 12, though maybe not for a couple years.

While the Big 12's statement said West Virginia will begin competing in the 2012-13 athletic season, Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said the Mountaineers will be staying in the Big East for two more seasons.

"West Virginia is fully aware that the Big East Conference is committed to enforcing the 27-month notification period for members who choose to leave the conference," he said in a statement.

West Virginia President James Clements said the university's focus is on next summer's conference transition, although there will be discussions with the Big East.

"Our intent is clearly July 1 we'll be a member of the Big 12," Clements said.

Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced last month they would join the ACC, and Marinatto has been adamant about saying the Big East plans to hold them for two more seasons.

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