A battle over West Virginia University’s bid to enter the Big 12 conference has turned political amid reports that senators from both parties have been trying to influence the selection process.
In a statement Wednesday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) suggested that if reports are true that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other lawmakers have been putting pressure on Big 12 officials, a congressional investigation may be warranted.
“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 said. “West Virginians and the American people deserve to know exactly what is going on and whether politics is interfering with our college sports.”
As of Tuesday night, it appeared that WVU was on track to be admitted into the Big 12. But according to a New York Times report Wednesday, an alleged lobbying effort by McConnell had blunted WVU’s momentum and opened the window for Louisville to be admitted instead.
The Times report cited two sources who claimed that McConnell had personally lobbied University of Oklahoma President David Boren, a former Democratic senator from Oklahoma and the father of Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.). Asked Wednesday evening about the imbroglio, a McConnell spokesman declined to comment.
The decision-making process is still in flux, and a person with knowledge of the Big 12 talks told the Associated Press on Wednesday that lawmakers from several states have tried to intervene on behalf of their schools.
“There’s been outside influences for every school,” the person said, according to the AP. “Everybody’s politicians are calling. I don’t mean that in a negative way. They’ve all been positive and no one has tried to coerce anybody into anything.”
Manchin’s fellow West Virginia senator, Jay Rockefeller (D), has also joined the fray: West Virginia political analyst Hoppy Kercheval reports that Rockefeller spoke with Boren by phone Wednesday and urged him to “get us back to the merits” and away from the politics of the decision-making process.