By John Raby
AP Sports Writer
Interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas said Tuesday he fully expects West Virginia to start play next season despite a hard-line stance from the Big East.
Neinas attended a reception in Morgantown officially welcoming the Mountaineers into the Big 12 on Tuesday, a day after the university filed a lawsuit against the Big East seeking to clear the way for West Virginia to start Big 12 competition next fall.
Neinas, West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck and university President James Clements were peppered with questions about the lawsuit and the timetable on the Mountaineers’ Big 12 debut.
“I’m not concerned because I trust the two gentlemen on each side of me, that’s why,” Neinas said.
The Big East has said it plans to keep West Virginia from leaving for 27 months under the league’s bylaws.
Luck and Clements declined comment on the lawsuit. Filed in Monongalia County Circuit Court, it seeks to declare the Big East bylaws invalid, claiming the conference breached its fiduciary duty to West Virginia by failing to maintain a balance between football-playing and non-football members.
When Neinas was asked what happens if the Big East is successful in delaying West Virginia’s quick exit, “then I guess for the first time in college football history, we’ll have home and home” schedules, he joked. “Oklahoma State told me they don’t want to play Oklahoma twice.”
On a serious note, Neinas said: “We fully expect West Virginia will be there.”
Neinas, Luck and Clements tried to keep the focus on the Big 12’s newest member during the packed reception at the school’s football stadium, which included a pep band playing the Mountaineers’ fight song.
Neinas even wore a striped gold tie and blue shirt in West Virginia’s school colors.
Neinas said West Virginia’s entrance into the Big 12 was contingent on the university being available next year.
“We needed a 10th member next season to fulfill our TV commitments,” Neinas said. “There’s an inventory that goes with a contract for TV, so we’ve got to be able to do that.”
He said the immediate availability wasn’t a deciding factor in West Virginia being chosen over Louisville, which briefly entered the picture last week before the choice of the Mountaineers was solidified.
West Virginia becomes the Big 12’s easternmost member, joining Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, TCU and Iowa State. Missouri, which was left off the Big 12’s list of members for 2012-13, is expected to finalize a move to the Southeastern Conference soon.
Neinas said Missouri is considered a Big 12 member until it withdraws and the league will accommodate 11 football teams if necessary.
“We can do it,” Neinas said. “We don’t have it on paper. But our computers will work out to provide a schedule that will accommodate 11 teams.”
West Virginia wouldn’t simply move into Missouri’s Big 12 football schedule if the Tigers leave.
Instead, “we’re going to have to redo the schedule for a variety of reasons,” Neinas said. “We’re going to have to do some adjusting.”
Clements reiterated his commitment to getting started in a new conference.
“We were a very proud member of the Big East for a long time. And a good member,” Clements said. “But now it’s all about the Big 12. And we’re thrilled to be a member of the Big 12. It is a great conference. It’s strong. It’s stable. From an academic standpoint. From a leadership standpoint. We couldn’t feel better. The stuff with the Big East will work itself out.”
Luck said West Virginia has started the complex process of reviewing details related to athletic department expenses and revenue as a Big 12 member along with looking at next season’s nonconference football schedule.
“There are a lot of things we don’t know yet,” Luck said. “Clearly the television payout is much bigger than it is in the Big East, but we also would have additional travel expenses.”
The issues also include finding a home for West Virginia’s men’s soccer team. The Big 12 doesn’t sponsor the sport. Teams in rifle, wrestling and women’s gymnastics at West Virginia compete in other conferences besides the Big East.
“We’re just becoming familiar with the bylaws of the Big 12,” Luck said. “There’s lots of details we have to look at, but we’ll get to that in due time and we’ll make prudent decisions based on the best interests of our student-athletes and our university.”