Lobbying From Politicians Causes Uproar In Conference Realigment Talks
Lobbying by people on behalf of the Univ. of Louisville “has created a heated race for the remaining slot in the Big 12 that Missouri is expected to vacate soon,” according to Pete Thamel of the N.Y. TIMES. Sources said that the lobbying of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R- Ky.) “had helped Louisville.” His communication with Univ. of Oklahoma President David Boren and Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance, a former U.S. senator and congressman, respectively, “played a role in raising Louisville’s fortunes.” Hance confirmed that McConnell “called him to push Louisville.” Hance: “Mitch McConnell talked about the merits of Louisville and nothing else. Why shouldn’t he be sticking up for Kentucky? I think the guys from West Virginia got caught flat-footed not sticking up for West Virginia.” Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said in a statement, “If a United States senator has done anything inappropriate or unethical to interfere with a decision that the Big 12 had already made, then I believe that there should be an investigation in the U.S. Senate, and I will fight to get the truth” (N.Y. TIMES, 10/27). In West Virginia, Jared Hunt reports West Virginia state representatives also “were all enraged by media reports” that McConnell may have “used his influence to at least temporarily block WVU’s move.” U.S. Rep Shelley Moore Capito said, “With 9.2 percent employment, it’s disappointing that folks in Washington are meddling in our college sports” (CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL, 10/27). Also in West Virginia, Kate White writes the Big 12 “may just be gathering more information before making a decision, and Manchin hopes that’s the case.” Manchin said that he “expects the conference to have a decision by early next week.” He also said that he is “not accusing McConnell of interfering and hasn’t spoken to him about the situation.” Manchin did say that if an investigation is launched, “the appropriate body to look into the matter would be the Senate Commerce Committee," which is chaired by Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) (CHARLESTON GAZETTE, 10/27). CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman wrote on his Twitter feed, “Only thing that could've made this mind-numbing conference realignment stuff more idiotic is even more politicians getting involved. Thx!” SI's Jim Trotter wrote, "Congress wants to get involved in conference realignment and nfl hgh testing. Guess it has no other pressing matters, huh?”
WAITING FOR AN INVITATION: In Austin, Kirk Bohls cited a source as saying that no invitation from the Big 12 "has been extended to either" Louisville or WVU. The source said that the issue "won’t be decided for ‘at least several days’ because of a split within the league regarding the two schools.” The source said, “West Virginia is still a strong option. It’s going to be at least several days before we have an answer. … Everybody who’s saying its West Virginia is just speculating.” A Big 12 AD said, “I would say it’s a very close call for Oklahoma,” in regards to the Sooners’ preference for new members.” The AD added it is "plausible" that the Big 12 would accept Louisville, WVU and BYU to reach 12 teams after the likely departure of Missouri to the SEC (AUSTIN AMERICAN STATESMAN, 10/27). USA TODAY’s Kelly Whiteside reports the Big 12 is “leaning toward adding West Virginia and staying at 10 teams.” The issue is expected “to be resolved by the conference’s” BOD today or tomorrow (USA TODAY, 10/27). In Dallas, Chuck Carlton cites a source as saying that “momentum was trending back toward” WVU. As many as “four schools might be in favor of Louisville, including Oklahoma and Texas Tech.” Sources said that there is a possibility that the Big 12 “might opt to invite” both WVU and Louisville, “leaving the league at 11 if Missouri leaves as expected.” The move would “placate both schools, resolve an embarrassing issue and split the difference between those schools wanting 10 members and those wanting 12” (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 10/27). In K.C., Blair Kerkhoff cites a source as saying that “also on the table … was grant-of-rights.” The Univ. of Texas "favors six years, Oklahoma at least 10.” Boren “was willing to give in on the reduced grant-of-rights in exchange for support for Louisville” (K.C. STAR, 10/27). In Ft. Worth, Jimmy Burch writes there is speculation that the Big 12 “might now invite both schools as a compromise measure to minimize dissension within the ranks and to enhance league credibility going forward.” A source said that is “a ‘logical’ next step, although it has yet to be discussed in a group setting” (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 10/27).
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: CBSSPORTS.com’s Brett McMurphy writes as of Tuesday, Big 12 officials "planned to be in Morgantown, W. Va. [yesterday] to announce West Virginia was headed to the Big 12.” The conference “even had a press release prepared.” Before the Big 12 “could make it official the league’s board of directors wanted to perform due diligence and decided to hold off" on officially inviting WVU. The Big 12 had “always been deciding” between WVU, Louisville or BYU as a replacement for Missouri. Sources said that now the league “is split between West Virginia and Louisville” (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/26). Meanwhile, Oklahoma State Univ. booster T. Boone Pickens said he has "got to be convinced" that WVU is right for the Big 12.” Pickens said of his concerns about WVU, “I remember, you’ve got to fly into Pittsburgh and then drive a couple of hours. That’s pretty isolated” (THE OKLAHOMAN, 10/27).
COLLEGE VISITS: In Colorado Springs, Frank Schwab reports Big East Commissioner John Marinatto and Senior Associate Commissioner of Football & Marketing Nick Carparelli Jr. were in town yesterday to “meet with Air Force officials and pitch the conference to the academy.” Air Force has been a candidate to join the Big East as a football-only member, but “no official invitation has been extended” from the conference. At the meeting there was “no timetable discussed for the Big East officially extending an invitation, and no timetable discussed for Air Force making a decision” (Colorado Springs GAZETTE, 10/27). In Boise, Brian Murphy cites sources as saying that Marinatto is expected in the city today “for a similar meeting” with Boise State. BSU President Bob Kustra “met with Big East officials Sunday in Washington, D.C., and previously had phone calls with the league.” If BSU were to move its football program into the Big East, it “would need a place for their other sports programs.” WAC Commissioner Karl Benson "would not confirm or deny that the school had contacted him about housing the other sports" (IDAHO STATESMAN, 10/27). ESPN.com's Andy Katz cited a source as saying that interim BSU AD Curt Apsey "called Big West Conference commissioner Dennis Farrell on Wednesday to gauge interest in taking the Broncos' other sports if they join the Big East in football" (ESPN.com, 10/26). In Boston, Mark Blaudschun reports the formal approval of BSU and Air Force’s “invitations, as well as five and perhaps six other schools, will not come until next Tuesday, when the Big East presidents conduct a meeting in Philadelphia with a vote expected to be taken” (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/27).
WHITHER THE BIG EAST? N.Y. Daily News columnist Bruce Murray said the Big East is "doing everything they can to hold it together," but the feeling is that "somewhere down the road it won’t exist.” N.Y. Daily News reporter Frank Isola said, “Forget football. Just stick with basketball and the other sports. That’s what the Big East is about.” But N.Y. Daily News columnist Bob Raissman noted, “They won’t have the BCS money from football if they don’t get some football teams” (“Daily News Live,” SportsNet N.Y., 10/25). ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan said the Big East was "dead the day that Syracuse and Pittsburgh left.” Meanwhile, ESPN’s Bomani Jones said of the reported super conference comprised of the Big East, Mountain West and Conference USA, “There’s no team that anybody actually wants to watch, so what are we really talking about here? A big loose collection of teams that has no desirability to anybody but fans of one particular school” ("Around The Horn,” ESPN, 10/26).