Conference realignment took another turn Wednesday.
A day after it appeared the Big 12 decided West Virginia would replace Missouri, fellow Big East school Louisville entered the picture with help from a politician.
The New York Times reported West Virginia was so confident of being invited, it was working on scheduling a news conference with the Big 12 for Wednesday. (Athletic director Oliver Luck declined to comment.)
But Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell lobbied Big 12 officials (including Oklahoma president and former U.S. senator David Boren) for Louisville's inclusion. That prompted West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate committee that oversees sports, to release a statement:
"The Big 12 picked WVU on the strength of its program — period. Now the media reports that political games may upend that. That's just flat wrong. I am doing and will do whatever it takes to get us back to the merits."
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin also released a statement:
"If these outrageous reports have any merit — and especially if a United States Senator has done anything inappropriate or unethical to interfere with a decision that the Big 12 had already made — then I believe that there should be an investigation in the U.S. Senate, and I will fight to get the truth."
Manchin later said his problem was the timing: "I would expect McConnell to lobby for Louisville but not after the Big 12 makes its decision.''
McConnell's office declined to comment.
"Mitch McConnell talked about the merits of Louisville and nothing else," Texas Tech chancellor and former congressman Kent Hance said. "I think the guys from West Virginia got caught flat-footed not sticking up for West Virginia."
Boren provided little help.
"I think all of this should have great clarity within the next 10 days or less," he said.
One thing seems sure: Missouri is leaving the Big 12. The New York Times reported that only an agreement on an exit fee is holding up an official announcement of its departure to the SEC.
With Missouri and Texas A&M off to the SEC after this season and TCU coming in next season, the Big 12 stands at nine teams. The Kansas City Star reported it will stay at 10 until Notre Dame, now an independent, decides on its future. And there's no guarantee it's down to Louisville or West Virginia. Other schools, including BYU, have been reported as under consideration.
At the moment, the Big East has six schools. Several media reports have it talking to Boise State, Air Force and Navy for football only and Houston, SMU and Central Florida for all sports. The presidents are meeting Tuesday, and multiple reports say they likely will give commissioner John Marinatto authority to invite them.
If West Virginia or Louisville leaves, Temple, once kicked out of the Big East and currently in the MAC, could be a candidate.
Ohio St.: The tattoo parlor owner at the center of the school's NCAA investigation was sentenced to three years in prison for drug trafficking and money laundering. In December, five players were found to have received cash and discounted tattoos from Edward Rife in exchange for memorabilia and championship rings. Judge Gregory Frost said that had no bearing on his sentence.
Pitt 35, UConn 20: Tino Sunseri threw for two scores and a career-high 419 yards and ran for a score for the host Panthers. But Pitt (4-4, 2-1 Big East) lost Ray Graham, the nation's second-leading rusher, to a right knee injury. An MRI exam is set for today. The Huskies (3-5, 1-2) got an offensive touchdown, Kashif Moore's 62-yard catch, after failing to do so in their previous two games.
Men's soccer: Dom Dwyer scored twice as host USF beat Cincinnati 3-0. USF (12-2-2), No. 6 in the coaches' poll, can clinch the Big East's Red Division with a win or tie at Rutgers on Sunday.
Volleyball: Tampa moved within a victory of the best start in school history, beating Sunshine State Conference rival and host Florida Southern in four sets. The Spartans (24-0, 11-0 SSC), ranked No. 1 in the coaches' poll, play at Eckerd on Friday.