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West Virginia Univ. “has applied for membership to the Big 12 Conference and has been accepted,” according to sources cited in a front-page piece by Mike Casazza of the CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL. The details of WVU's move, including “the specific date for WVU to leave the Big East Conference,” were being finalized yesterday, but sources said that “the decision to move has been approved on both sides.” WVU released a statement late yesterday stating that “there would be no press conference today.” Because of the move, the school “could be subjected to the Big East's exit fee and might have to wait 27 months before departing,” but sources said that the Big 12 and WVU “both hope the Mountaineers will be in its new conference for the 2012-13 athletic year.” Casazza reports WVU was “part of a unanimous vote last week to increase the Big East exit fee from $5 million to $10 million once it added a school.” However, WVU will only “have to pay $5 million because no team has joined the Big East.” If the conference announces an addition before WVU's move to the Big 12 is official, the school "would have to pay $10 million.” However, a source said that the university “is confident that will not happen.” Casazza notes a move to the Big 12 “will be celebrated as an athletic and academic upgrade by WVU, but also as a major financial improvement.” WVU's athletic department “stands to make more than twice what it made as a Big East member” in ‘10-11. The school earned $7.049M “in revenue sharing from television, bowls, NCAA basketball tournament monies and other contributions” during that time period (CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL, 10/26). In Pittsburgh, Jenn Menendez notes WVU's television market “will be the smallest in the Big 12, but the school’s brand of football and rabid fan base have long been considered the university’s best selling point” (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 10/26). However, in K.C., Kerkhoff & DeArmond cite sources as saying the Big 12 BOD “met on a conference call and … the presidents essentially hit the pause button on expansion” (K.C. STAR, 10/26).
MEANT TO REPLACE MISSOURI? In Charleston, Dave Hickman in a front-page piece notes “conventional wisdom seems to be that West Virginia’s acceptance means that Big 12 officials have been assured that Missouri is about to withdraw from the conference and that only the details and exit strategies remain to be worked out.” Missouri officials “reportedly were at the SEC’s headquarters in Birmingham, Ala., Tuesday discussing the move.” Sources said that WVU’s “admittance to the Big 12 wasn’t necessarily predicated on Missouri’s exit” (CHARLESTON GAZETTE, 10/26). ESPN.com’s Joe Schad reported the Big 12 “still wants Missouri to play in the conference next season, as to not open the possibility of television renegotiations if the league were to drop to nine teams.” A source said that the conference “feels comfortable at 10 teams but still will consider 12 teams in the future.” Another source said that the Big 12 also “is discussing a conference media network, which … could even include content, if not games, related to the University of Texas, which founded its own Longhorn Network in association with ESPN” (ESPN.com, 10/25).
MIZZOU DECISION NOT BEING RUSHED: MU Chancellor Brady Deaton appeared on KFRU-AM yesterday and said the school is "days, possibly a week or two," from making known its future conference affiliation plans. Deaton said, "We feel a great urgency to clarify them as quickly as possible. ... We're hoping the sooner the better.” Deaton noted the school's Board of Curators Friday granted him the "authority to make the decision affecting conference alignment at the University of Missouri." Deaton: "That was a big step because involved in these steps that are taken at this point are two conferences, two boards of directors, two sets of legal counsel, two sets of financial analyses -- or three if you count the university separate from the Big 12 -- and then you have a commissioner in whichever conference you’re dealing with. So they’re complex issues and we have to look at a wide range of issues affecting our student athletes, travel, financial issues, future security, stability of the conference. So what we’re trying to do in other areas, such as developing private development funds, depends on the environment you’re setting within the institution.” He added the school is "analyzing each of those issues very carefully, and these are not decisions that can just be made at the press of a button." Deaton: "My point here, I think for the public and alums to hopefully understand is, we are not delaying anything beyond what has to be delayed to make the right decision for the University of Missouri, and we’re absolutely committed to that.” He noted a lot of people "point to the fact that this is just about money. ... That simply is not the case." Deaton said, "As we’re looking at alternatives here, the financial considerations are not the principle considerations. Looking to long-term stability for an environment for the University of Missouri to prosper, for its student athletes to reach their highest, most effective level of competitiveness, with clarity of where we are going as a university, are really the most important overriding factors that we’re looking at” ("Columbia Morning with David Lile,” KFRU-AM, 10/25). Meanwhile, the Greater K.C. Chamber of Commerce board has voted unanimously this week to ask Deaton "to reject overtures to leave the Big 12" for the SEC (K.C. STAR, 10/26).
Big East Associate Commissioner/Communications John Paquette said that a report that Big East Commissioner John Marinatto would meet with Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky and Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson today in N.Y. about a merger between the leagues is “inaccurate,” according to Brett McMurphy of CBSSPORTS.com (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/25). In Las Vegas, Mark Anderson reported the three commissioners would meet today "to discuss the formation of one 28- to 32-football team super conference in an effort to gain automatic Bowl Championship Series status.” The MWC and Conference USA “already have agreed to merge by either next year or in 2013.” UNLV AD Jim Livengood also contradicted Paquette's statement in a text message, calling the initial report of the meeting "accurate” (LVRJ.com, 10/25). Livengood said of the potential super conference, “Is it fool-proof? No. But the last thing we should be doing now is sitting back and seeing what might happen next. This is a time to be aggressive. The (Mountain West-Conference USA) merger gives us a fighting chance, and (adding the Big East), if it means automatic BCS qualification, is a no-brainer.” With West Virginia on the verge of leaving the Big East for the Big 12 as the latest news in the conference realignment front, Livengood said, "These are the most unusual times I have ever seen. We have to stop it” (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 10/26).
STILL HOLDING HOPE OF EXPANDING: In N.Y. Pete Thamel writes “while the Big East has appeared to hit rock bottom with the loss of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Texas Christian, there are still embers of hope.” For the conference to survive, it "needs the conference shakeups to end so it can rebuild.” Big East officials met in DC Sunday “with presidents and athletic directors from the programs that they are interested in courting for their 12-team model.” The Big East “was warmly received, and laid out potential possibilities that included West Virginia leaving.” Those at the meeting included UCF, Houston and SMU, “which will be added for all sports, and Boise State and Navy, which would be added for football only.” Air Force did not attend the meeting, but AD Hans Mueh yesterday said to “absolutely not” read anything into the absence. Thamel reports the “linchpin for expansion is Boise State, whose president, Robert Kustra, said that the automatic BCS qualification was the key to luring the Broncos” (N.Y. TIMES, 10/26). ESPN.com’s Andy Katz cited sources as saying that “as long as the Big East holds onto Louisville, then it will [remain] a viable conference and will be able to add members.” The source said that Conference USA “understands” that UCF, Houston and SMU “are willing to go to the Big East.” The source added that Boise State “remains the key to the Big East’s plans for football expansion,” and even that “might not be enough for the Big East to retain” its automatic BCS bid (ESPN.com, 10/25). Kustra earlier this month said, “Stability in any league is important to us. Certainly we’ve been reading a lot about that issue of stability. That would be one of due diligence issues we’d have to deal with.” In Boise, Brian Murphy notes the Big East “made protecting its status as a BCS automatic qualifying conference its expansion priority.” Kustra said that his “two major objects are AQ status for Boise State’s football program and increased television revenue for the entire athletic program” (IDAHO STATESMAN, 10/26). Houston’s board of trustees “is scheduled to meet Thursday to give Chancellor Renu Khator the authority to determine changes in conference affiliation” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 10/26).
WVU LEAVING A MAJOR BLOW: In St. Petersburg, Greg Auman writes the news of WVU’s impending departure “is a major blow to the Big East’s future as an automatic-qualifying BCS league, unless the conference can pull off some major coups in filling out a proposed 12-team reincarnation” (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 10/26). In Pittsburgh, Bob Smizik writes the Big East “is dying and no amount of manipulation can save it.” The league was “sent to intensive care by the defections of Syracuse and Pitt in September and is on its death bed by the word yesterday that West Virginia was leaving.” But this was “a long, long time coming” (POST-GAZETTE.com, 10/26). In Philadelphia, Mike Jensen writes if Boise State passes on the Big East, “that may cause Big East basketball schools to decide it is time to forget all this football expansion, that it’s time to go back to the league’s roots as a conference without football” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 10/26).
Notre Dame reportedly could remain independent
in football but move other sports to Big 12
IRISH EYES COULD SMILE IN THE ACC: In Boston, Mark Blaudschun writes the ACC “has already said that while it has no current plans to go beyond 14 schools, it would not object to increasing to 16 if Notre Dame (in all sports) is part of the package.” The sticking point in that discussion “is the lucrative television contract Notre Dame has with NBC," which has four more seasons on it and pays the school $15M-$16M per year. Preliminary talks “of extending that pact have begun” and Notre Dame officials “also are talking to the ACC about allowing them to maintain their contract for home football games with NBC and still join the ACC in all the other sports.” If ACC officials bend on that issue, Notre Dame “could seriously consider giving up its independent status in football” (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/26).
The latest Graduation Success Rate (GSR) released yesterday showed the NCAA has achieved its goal of seeing "eight of every 10 Division I student-athletes earn their degrees within six years", according to David Wharton of the L.A. TIMES. Eighty-two percent of student athletes "who entered college in 2004 have graduated on time, and the average of the last four graduating classes (2001-04) has reached an all-time high of 80%." NCAA President Mark Emmert said, "We're delighted that we're here." But Wharton notes at the same time, "football and men's basketball continue a trend of lagging behind, both falling short of a graduation rate of 70%." Univ. of Hartford President and NCAA Committee on Academic Performance Chair Walter Harrison said, "We need to improve those two sports" (L.A. TIMES, 10/26). USA TODAY's Steve Wieberg reports 15 of the 25 programs in this week's BCS rankings "fell beneath the football average" of 67% in the FBS. The NCAA is "set to impose" an APR qualifier of 930 for championship events beginning in the '12-13 academic year. The cutoff would "start lower, at 900, and move upward over four years." After saying at a Knight Commission meeting in DC Monday that the BOD "could choose to start the new standards this season, Emmert said that would not happen" (USA TODAY, 10/26).
QUESTIONS ABOUT GRANT INCREASES: With news that NCAA President Mark Emmert supports a plan to increase grants to student-athletes by $2,000 a year, Texas A&M AD Bill Byrne said that he “is concerned the proposal might not help all athletes equally if it only applies to athletes with scholarships, which is uncertain.” Byrne said that any such proposal “also must be examined within the context of other changes the NCAA is considering.” ESPN.com’s Kristi Dosh noted among the changes the NCAA is considering are “a 10 percent reduction in games in every sport and a reduction in football scholarships from 85 to 80 at the FBS level and from 63 to 60 at the FCS level.” Scholarship reductions “from 13 to 12 in men’s basketball and 15 to 13 in women’s basketball are also being considered” (ESPN.com, 10/25). Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said he was okay with the $2,000 additional payments, but the players "should not be asking for more.” But ESPN.com's Bomani Jones is advocating for more, saying, "You're acting like these guys don’t generate more money than that or as though all of them can actually use the scholarship. You can’t eat a scholarship. You can only eat cash and $2,000 isn’t nearly enough” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 10/25).
PAY FOR PLAY: ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil noted "some 300 football and men's basketball players have signed a petition, telling the university presidents that they've read the bottom line and it's about time they got a cut." The petition specifically "asks that a portion of the piles of television revenue collected each year be set aside in an 'educational lockbox.'" O'Neil noted the NCAA reacted "as expected, insisting it already sets aside most of its money for its athletes -- 96 cents per dollar, according to NCAA spokesman Bob Williams -- failing to realize that paying for championships and paying into the student-athlete assistance fund isn't what these guys are talking about." O'Neil wrote, "Offering up the same old platitudes and trying to hoodwink athletes into believing that their scholarships are enough isn't going to work. A full ride shouldn't be [discounted] -- plenty of college students would trip over themselves to get a free education. But it is no longer an adequate answer" (ESPN.com, 10/25). In S.F., Gwen Knapp writes the problem with the concept “is that most Division I football and men’s basketball programs are not cash cows.” Knapp asks, “Would the athletes who signed the petition argue that any players whose teams lose money should be held responsible for the red ink?” If every Division I college “has to ante up more cash for its football and basketball players, regardless of their program’s profitability, much of the burden will fall on average students, who are already accruing absurd amounts of debt to pay for their education” (S.F. CHRONICLE, 10/26).
BETTER THAN THE AVERAGE STUDENT: The CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION's Libby Sander notes a study by the paper shows that Division I athletes “on the whole, appear to be better off financially speaking, than the general student body -- and financial-aid experts say that merit aid hardly ever covers the entire cost of college education.” Figures provided by the NCAA show that 16% of Division I athletes “received Pell Grants last year.” By contrast, nationally 30% of undergraduate students “at public and private four-year institutions received the federal grant for needy students last year” (CHRONICLE.com, 10/25).
OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE: In N.Y., Jorge Castillo notes the October issue of The Atlantic magazine featured a cover story by Taylor Branch titled "The Shame of College Sports" that focused on the NCAA, and the "thesis Branch presented was that the organization was little more than a sham, exploiting athletes in revenue sports like football and men’s basketball to make hundreds of millions of dollars while expounding the virtues of amateurism." Reaction to the story, both "positive and negatives, was swift." Branch said that retired college coaches "reached out to him to tell him that they agreed with the article's premise." The only previous experience Branch had "writing about sports came when he co-wrote the autobiography of the basketball great Bill Russell, 'Second Wind.'" In a statement, the NCAA said "after initially engaging with the NCAA roughly a year ago, Mr. Branch declined to respond to our many attempts to contact him and participate in his reporting" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/26).