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Big 12 Officially Invites West Virginia To Join Conference

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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(AP) The Big 12 on Friday invited West Virginia to join the league next season, giving the conference a replacement for Missouri and dealing another setback to the beleaguered Big East.

“The Big 12 Presidents and Chancellors are excited to welcome another outstanding institution to the Conference,” said Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis, the chairman of the Big 12 board of directors.

“The addition of West Virginia, while expanding the reach of the Big 12, brings an impressive institution with esteemed academics and a proud athletic tradition into the Conference. This is another step in building a strong foundation for the future of the Big 12.”

In its release, the Big 12 said it expects to have 10 schools for the 2012-13 season, listing West Virginia but not Missouri.

West Virginia is one of the founding members of the Big East’s football conference, created in 1991. Of the eight original members for the Big East, only Rutgers remains. The Big East is trying to reconfigure itself as a 12-team football league and has been courting six schools, including Boise State, to join. Now it will need seven to get to 12, though maybe not for a couple years.

While the Big 12′s statement said West Virginia will begin competing in the 2012-13 athletic season, the Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said that the Mountaineers will be staying in the Big East for two more seasons.

“West Virginia is fully aware that the Big East Conference is committed to enforcing the 27-month notification period for members who choose to leave the conference,” he said in a statement.

The Big East has already said it will hold Syracuse and Pittsburgh for two more seasons before they are allowed to leave the league for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

It appeared earlier in the week that the Big 12 had settled on West Virginia as its replacement for Missouri, which is likely leaving for the Southeastern Conference. But West Virginia’s Big East rival Louisville briefly re-entered the picture and the Mountaineers’ invitation to the Big 12 was put on hold temporarily.

In the end the extra time didn’t pay off for the Cardinals.

“It’s a terrific day for West Virginia and for college football writ large — the merits won out and WVU is back in the Big 12,” West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller said in a statement.

West Virginia will be the 10th member of the Big 12, and Louisville will remain in the Big East.

CBSSports.com first reported West Virginia’s move to the Big 12.

The decision by the Big 12 caps a strange week of conference realignment that included West Virginia officials on Tuesday preparing a press release and planning a news conference to announce its conference switch, then being told later that day to put those plans on hold.

Louisville made a late push for inclusion that reportedly involved a phone call from Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Louisville alum, to Big 12 officials.

That set off West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who threatened a senate investigation if it were found that another lawmaker had stood in the way of the Mountaineers move.

Then late Thursday night, the SEC inadvertently posted on its website that Missouri was joining the league. The conference said no agreement has been reached with the school, but it was yet another sign that it’s just a matter of time that the Tigers will follow Texas A&M and leave the Big 12 for the SEC.

Now, the focus shifts to the Big East and how it plans to rebuild. It has been courting Boise State, Navy and Air Force as football-only members and SMU, Houston and Central Florida as all-sports members.

“This move by West Virginia does not come as a surprise,” Marinatto said. “League officials, members of our conference and the candidate schools to whom we have been talking were aware of tis possibility. We have taken West Virginia’s possible departure into account as we have moved forward with our realignment plans.”

Temple had been considered before Big East officials settled on the Texas schools from Conference USA.

Marinatto met on campus with officials from Air Force on Wednesday and Boise State on Thursday. The Big East presidents are scheduled to meet with Marinatto on Tuesday in Philadelphia and are expected to authorize him to officially invite new members.

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