Big 12 Conference welcomes West Virginia as newest member

Jessica Opoien

Despite a looming lawsuit with the Big East Conference, West Virginia University President James P. Clements was all smiles Tuesday afternoon when he put on a Big 12 baseball cap given to him by Big 12 Interim Commissioner Chuck Neinas.

“It’s official,” Clements said after accepting the hat.

The Big 12 Conference voted Friday to accept West Virginia as its newest member, effective July 1, 2012. The conference held a news conference Tuesday to welcome the university to its ranks.

The addition comes amid a flurry of rumors surrounding Missouri’s potential departure from the conference.

West Virginia’s transition to the Big 12 will not happen without ruffling some feathers in the Big East, though. The university filed a lawsuit Monday seeking an immediate release from its contract with the Big East. The suit contains claims of “breach of contract” and “breach of fiduciary duty,” but Big East Commissioner John Marinatto has said that the conference will enforce the mandatory 27-month waiting period required by its bylaws before the school can exit.

“We are disappointed that West Virginia has adopted this strategy and cannot imagine why it believes it does not have to respect and honor the bylaws it agreed to as a member of the Big East,” Marinatto said in a statement.

Texas Christian University, another recent addition to the Big 12, is not subject to this waiting period since the school never actually competed in the Big East upon originally accepting an invitation to the conference for the 2012-13 season last year.

Both Neinas and WVU Director of Athletics Oliver Luck emphasized the significance of West Virginia’s status as a land-grant institution in Tuesday’s news conference. West Virginia shares its land-grant status with Iowa State, which was the first co-educational land-grant school when it opened in 1869.

“In this 150th year of land-grant institutions … it’s very appropriate that the Big 12 took an outstanding land-grant institution, West Virginia University, to be its 10th member,” Luck said.

Neinas said the land-grant system gave a lot of people access to an education that they probably would not have had otherwise, adding that other than the G.I. Bill, no program has given more people a chance at an education than college athletics.

West Virginia will also join Iowa State as one of five conference members with wrestling programs. Currently, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Missouri compete in wrestling within the conference.

Clements praised the Big 12 as a “very strong, very vibrant conference” with “great momentum heading into the future.” He said he believes Big 12 fans will enjoy Morgantown, W.Va., as a destination for games.

Luck thanked alumni and “folks who quietly lobbied” on West Virginia’s behalf in the process of obtaining an invitation to the Big 12.

“We look forward to having West Virginia University join the Big 12 Conference,” said ISU Director of Athletics Jamie Pollard in an email. “They have an outstanding football program with a national following, and they were recently in the Final Four in men’s basketball. West Virginia University also allows the Big 12 conference to expand its television footprint towards the East Coast, which will add additional value to our television contracts.”