By RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
The Big 12 has approved bringing in West Virginia to replace Missouri when the Tigers complete their move to the Southeastern Conference, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because neither the school nor the Big 12 had announced that its board of directors unanimously approved inviting West Virginia when Missouri’s spot comes open.
The move would allow the Big 12 to maintain 10 members and is another blow to the embattled Big East, which already has lost two members and one member-to-be in the last six weeks.
The Big East is trying to reconfigure as a 12-team football league and has been courting Boise State, Navy and Air Force as football-only members and Central Florida, SMU and Houston for all sports. Commissioner John Marinatto met with officials from some of those schools Sunday in Washington.
Since there is no timetable for Missouri to complete its expected departure from the Big 12– and the league’s board of
directors announced that it expressed “a strong desire” for Missouri to stay during a Monday meeting– there is no timetable for West Virginia to receive a formal invitation, the person said.
But the school will accept an invitation once it is offered, the person said.
Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas has already said he expects Missouri to compete in the Big 12 in 2012, but all signs indicate Missouri is leaving and now the conference is prepared for that.
On Friday, the Missouri Board of Curators gave Chancellor Brady Deaton the authority to move the school out of the Big 12. The school has been considering a move to the SEC, where it would become that conference’s 14th member and join Texas A&M, which made its move from the Big 12 official earlier this month.
The SEC has not publicly acknowledged interest in Missouri and Commissioner Mike Slive has said his conference was making plans to have 13 members next season, but there are scheduling problems– especially in football– that come with that number.
West Virginia has been the Big East’s most successful football program since the league lost Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004 and ’05. The Mountaineers have been to a bowl game every season since and won two BCS games.
Without West Virginia, only one of the original eight schools that made up the Big East’s football conference when it began in 1991 will remain: Rutgers.
Last month, Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced they were leaving the Big East for the ACC, and earlier this month TCU reneged on its plans to join the Big East in 2012 to instead go to the Big 12.
Marinatto has said he plans to make Pitt and Syracuse abide by the league’s bylaws and stay in the Big East for the next two years. The Big East’s 27-month notification will likely be a hurdle for West Virginia to clear on its way to the Big 12.
TCU only must pay the league’s $5 million exit fee.
The Big East presidents voted last week to double that fee to $10 million if the league added either Navy or Air Force, but the conference has not formally invited any new members yet.
It’s unclear how the loss of West Virginia will affect the Big East’s expansion plans. The Big East made protecting its status as a BCS automatic qualifying conference its expansion priority, and adding Boise State’s high successful football program to the conference with West Virginia had league officials optimistic.
Boise State President Bob Kustra has said that getting into conference with an automatic bid to the BCS was one of his top priorities, but the stability of the Big East was a concern. Boise State is in its first season in the Mountain West Conference. Air Force also plays in the MWC. Navy is an independent in football.
To replace West Virginia, the Big East could turn to Temple, which was also being considered before the conference decided to try to add the two Texas schools from Conference USA.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)