Big 12 awaits WVU in 2012
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Jason Butts and his West Virginia gymnastics team have already set their Big 12 conference schedule for next year.
His team has often competed against Oklahoma and Iowa State, which will be the only other gymnastics programs in the Big 12 when West Virginia joins.
The Mountaineers fly commercial out of Pittsburgh, some 14 athletes per trip, for those meets.
If only it was that easy for football.
As the West Virginia team prepares for next month's Orange Bowl, the Moutaineers still don't have a football schedule for next fall.
Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas insisted last week that West Virginia will be part of his conference on July 1, and said the league has already prepared five potential schedules to members for review.
But as a pair of lawsuits play out the logistical problems of trying to plan a move to the Big 12 are compounded by the day.
West Virginia wants to leave by July and has sued the Big East for breach of contract in a West Virginia court, and the Big East has countersued in Rhode Island to force them to stay roughly two years longer under conference exit rules. Both sides are trying to have the other's case dismissed.
"I understand, but I feel very confident they'll be here July 1, 2012," Neinas said in a telephone interview.
West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck has instructed all of his coaches to move forward with non-conference scheduling.
"Our focus right now is the Big 12. I've told all of our coaches to set up their non-conference schedules with the Big 12 in mind," said Luck in a recent interview. "That's our intent."
Most years by this time, the schedule has been set.
The Big East, which normally releases its football schedule in February, said it plans to do the same this year, said conference spokesman Chuck Sullivan.
If litigation drags on, both leagues could set schedules which include West Virginia's athletic teams.
Regardless how long it plays out in the courts, it is expected to set a legal precedent as conferences realign around the country.
"I think there's a whole lot of people watching this one," said attorney Scott Andresen, a sports law expert and adjunct professor at Northwestern University. "What will get real interesting is if neither judge dismisses it, or if they both dismiss it. If one judge dismisses and the other one doesn't, then we have our venue. If neither dismisses it, you get the 'Who will get the home court advantage?' That's what it's all about."
Football scheduling is slightly more manageable than basketball scheduling because fewer teams and games are involved.
Basketball gets particularly tricky because there are so many variables: several games are played in NBA or NHL arenas, and there are 31 games, not 12.
Add in the needs of both leagues' television partners: ESPN for the Big East and Fox for the Big 12, and it gets more complicated.
Neinas said despite what he called the "administrative chore" of scheduling, it pales into comparison to the issues that would have arisen if the Big 12 had not secured West Virginia as its 10th member, along with TCU.
"The scheduling matter is not that important, what was important was to accomplish realignment: to obtain two high quality institutions to join the Big 12, to resolve some of the issues which were in the Big 12, which has been done," said Neinas.
When West Virginia does break away from the Big East -- either for next season or if it has to wait -- more logistical concerns arise.
Iowa State in Ames would be the closest trip for the Mountaineers at 871 miles away.
Butts, whose gymnastics team has it a bit easier than the other sports at West Virginia, said "Because there's only two other schools it definitely makes it less complicated," he said. "Then again, my theory is it's just as easy to go to the airport and get on a plane, as it is to get on a bus."
Neinas said in football, scheduling is not as difficult as it sounds.
The Big 12 plays a round-robin football schedule -- each team plays nine conference games against each of the other schools in the league.
"It takes time to put things together. It's not a matrix that says this is the schedule," said Neinas. "You try to balance it. For example West Virginia would like to have Oklahoma (in Morgantown) one year and Texas another year. They don't want them both the same year."
Still, who knows what teams will be on West Virginia's schedule next year?
Said Andresen, the lawyer: "It could end up being a real big hot mess."
First Published December 18, 2011 12:00 am