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Big 12 "Comfortable" With 10 Teams

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MORGANTOWN -

Big 12 Interim Commissioner Chuck Neinas spent part of his weekend in Morgantown delivering the keynote address to the Morgantown Chamber of Commerce.

In an exclusive interview, Neinas said further Big 12 expansion beyond that of TCU and West Virginia is unlikely in the near future.

"The Board of Directors at the time West Virginia was admitted to the Big 12 asked the expansion committee to continue to monitor the landscape of college athletics," Neinas stated. "We are currently at ten and very comfortable with ten."

Big 12 members are happy with the current structure. It creates a fairness in competition.

"As a ten team conference you play every team in the conference for football," Neinas said. "You are not skipping any opponent. There is not that argument that someone played Oklahoma and the other guy had to play a lesser team. In basketball, it is a double round-robin, so if you lose on the road, you get the same team at home. That is very appealing to our conference membership."

The Big 12 previously had a conference championship game when it was a 12-team league. Both Missouri and Texas A&M are departing the Big 12 for the SEC in July. TCU and West Virginia are set to take over those vacancies.

"Unlikely that there will be a conference championship game anytime in the near future," Neinas stated. "There is, not unanimous, but heavy plurality favoring not having a conference championship or playoff because that brings about divisional play and that is where you get into a debate about strength of division."

The Big 12 was left on the outside looking in at the BCS National Championship game earlier this month. Oklahoma State had an argument for earning a spot in that game, but the BCS standings left Oklahoma State as the number three team just fractions of a point behind Alabama for number two. It once again put the BCS in the crosshairs with many calling for a change to the format. Change appears to be on the horizon.

"There will definitely be some kind of a change," Neinas said. "What format will come out, I don't know. There is obviously support for what they call the ‘plus one' but exactly how that would work is unknown."

Big 12 Athletic Directors, including West Virginia's Oliver Luck, recently voted unanimously in support of a ‘plus one' format.

No changes to the current format will take place for at least two years. That is the amount of time remaining on the current BCS contract.

"The conference commissioners who are responsible for the BCS have meetings scheduled in February, March, April and June so by then we will hopefully know what the new format will look like," Neinas said.

In the meantime, schools will compete for the BCS National Championship in its current form. The Big 12 appears to have several contenders for the next BCS title, including West Virginia University.

"You can't go by preseason rankings this far in advance," Neinas said. "But there are several already out and West Virginia is in the top 10 in one or two."

Neinas is clearly keeping a much closer eye on West Virginia than he previously did. That included watching WVU pound Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl.

"Jim Clements sent me a text following the Orange Bowl game saying I hope we made you proud," Neinas said with a smile. "I sent a text back saying that is all well and good, but our Big 12 coaches think you should remain in the Big East."

West Virginia University President James Clements and Athletic Director Oliver Luck both continue to say that WVU will compete in the Big 12 in 2012. The first sport each athletic season is football. The Big 12 must deliver its 2012 schedule no later than Wednesday. Neinas indicated West Virginia will be on that schedule, which has already been distributed by the Big 12 to its Athletic Directors including Oliver Luck.

"Either West Virginia (will be on it) or the Green Bay Packers and I think it is more likely West Virginia."

It looks like WVU and the Big 12 will begin their marriage this July regardless of any decision reached in the ongoing lawsuits between West Virginia University and the Big East.

"Our Conference attorney is in contact with West Virginia's attorney," Neinas stated. "We are monitoring it very closely and we have very good communication. I think things are going to go very smoothly in terms of West Virginia becoming a member of the Big 12."

With all of that in mind, West Virginia will finish out its final basketball season in the Big East over the next two months. This will also be West Virginia's final Big East Tournament.

The Big 12 Tournament has been played in the Sprint Center in Kansas City. It will remain there through the 2014 season.

"There has been discussion by the Athletics Directors about the possibility of remaining there," Neinas said. "It's been a good home for the Big 12."

Comparing Kansas City to New York City is definitely unfair. However, Neinas believes fans will notice a difference in the way the host city treats its conference tournament.

"Kansas City is not New York City," Neinas said with a smile. "You will find that the entire city embraces the tournament. It is their bowl game so to speak. The Chamber of Commerce and the whole city is wholeheartedly supportive of the tournament. Every team has a tournament host. The city turns out to make the Big 12 tournament a key event. It is probably the most important event in the Sprint Center each year."

Neinas made his second public appearance in Morgantown in roughly three months. The first was the official welcome to the Big 12 celebration in October. He called it important for the Big 12 to remain visible in the Mountain State.

"We want the good folks of West Virginia to know more about the Big 12 Conference," Neinas stated. "I think you are going to enjoy it."

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