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Big East ready to expand

Posted by Mark Blaudschun, Globe Staff  October 3, 2011 09:46 PM

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A day after holding a meeting in Washington D.C. among university presidents and chancellors who gave Big East commissioner John Marinatto permission to find other teams in an expansion/survival mode for the embattled Big East football conference, the league has made preliminary moves to expand the football league to 10 teams and the highly-successful Big East basketball conference to 17 teams.
The Big East went into a crisis mode last month when Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced they were jumping to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
According to sources familiar with the process, but not authorized to talk about any negotiations, the Big East is focusing on two areas, with SMU, Central Florida ,Navy and Temple as the primary schools being looked at. Air Force is also being considered, but that seems more remote of a possibility
In football, the focus was on getting to at least 10 teams. A two-tier plan of attack has been implemented with one area focusing on schools that would join the conference in football only which has included conversations with Navy, Air Force and Temple. With the departure of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the Big East will have shrunk to 6 teams, with TCU scheduled to join the Big East as a member in all sports next fall.
Adding SMU, which would be a travel partner for TCU, and Central Florida would increase the total to nine teams and Temple becomes a strong option if Navy chooses to remain as an independent in football. Another possibility would be to add Villanova, which is already a member of the Big East in all other sports, as the 10th member if the Villanova administration decides to make the jump from the FCS to the FBS level.
The combination of all those moves should stabilize the football conference which would guarantee the conference maintaining its lucrative automatic BCS berth BCS berths are guaranteed to the conferences based on overall performance over a designated period of time. As long as the Big East remains intact, its bid can not be taken away by any change in the configuration of the conference.
The basketball part is more complicated because the non-football members of the conference such as Providence, Seton Hall, Georgetown and St. John's have watched nervously as football controls the fate of the conference. There has been some sentiment that the non-football members would break away and form their own conference, but they are reluctant to do that.
With the loss of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the Big East basketball has shrunk from 16 to 14 teams. Adding TCU will make it 15, and adding SMU and UCF will raise the level to 17, with the proviso that it could cap out at 18.
Although adding TCU, SMU and UCF diminishes the power of the basketball league which put a record 11 teams in the NCAA tournament last year, sources among the schools involved say they could live with 17 and would also accept 18 schools if Temple, which has been as force in the Atlantic 10 for several years, came in as a full member.
Temple, which was ejected from the Big East football league for nonperformance would obviously love to come back to the Big East under any circumstances.
The other factor that the Big East is considering is putting teeth into any rules involving teams leaving the league. With former National Football League commissioner Paul Tagliabue heavily involved in a consulting role, the Big East is strongly considering the rule implemented by the Big Ten, which allows conferences to keep the television shares from schools that leave the conference for a specified amount of years.
Thus if schools such as Louisville or West Virginia or Rutgers or UConn, who have also looked to switch, wanted to leave, they would not get their share of any television money from their home games for a number of years after they leave.
The timing of all of these moves is uncertain. But with Missouri ready to make a final decision on whether it will stay in the Big 12 or move to another conference such as the SEC, the Big East is also ready to start making moves which it hopes will guarantee the survival of the football conference--at least for the time being.

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