While current Big East members Louisville and West Virginia jousted with each other in efforts to see which school would be invited to the Big 12 -- Louisville looks like the favorite because it has the backing of Texas -- according to sources in the Big East, conference officials flew to Boise, Idaho on Wednesday to make a site visit and work out the details of what is expected to be an invitation from the Big East for Boise to join the conference in football only.
Visits to Air Force and possibly BYU also could be part of the itinerary.
The formal approval of Boise's and Air Force's invitations, as well as five and perhaps six other schools, will not come until next Tuesday, when the Big East presidents conduct a meeting in Philadelphia with a vote expected to be taken.
But after meeting with Boise officials in Washington on Sunday, the next step was for Big East commissioner John Marinatto and other Big East officials to make site visits to the schools on their wish list: Boise State, Air Force, Central Florida, SMU, Houston and Navy.
If a seventh school -- which would be dictated by the departure of either Louisville or West Virginia -- is needed to get to the desired total of 12 football schools, BYU remains a viable option as a western addition, as well as Memphis, while Temple and East Carolina are the primary schools in the East division of what Big East officials hope will become a competitive BCS conference.
Of that group of newcomers, Boise, Air Force, BYU, and Navy would be football-only members, while Central Florida, SMU, and Houston would be extended invitations in all sports.
Most of the plans have been tentatively worked out.
The Western wing of the Big East (if BYU is included) would be comprised of: Boise State, Air Force, BYU, Houston, SMU and Cincinnati. The Eastern division would be comprised of: Connecticut, Rutgers, Central Florida, South Florida, West Virginia or Louisville and Navy.
If BYU is not included, West Virginia or Louisville presumably would be shifted to the West and Temple would fill in the last East division slot. Memphis is also a possibility. Whether Temple would be offered a membership or in football only has yet to be determined if an invitation is given.
None of this is official, of course, until the presidents approve. Details of securing schools such as Air Force and Navy are still being finalized, but there is an overall sense of optimism among Big East officials that the plan will be approved.
The timetable for all of these moves remains uncertain since any Big East school which leaves -- including Syracuse and Pittsburgh, who are headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference -- and either Louisville or West Virginia or perhaps even both are subject to a 27-month departure minimum before they can move to their new leagues.
Whether compromises on the departure dates can be worked out is uncertain. But after several weeks of examining all the issues and talking to various school officials, the Big East finally seems ready to make a move with Boise State, which is regarded as the lynchpin for any expansion plan because of its lofty BCS rankings over the past several years.
The main issue which has to be worked out with Boise is the exit fee required for leaving the Mountain West, which could be considerable if Boise is once again (as it is expected to be) given an BCS bid (Fiesta Bowl) this season.
Although nothing is definitive until the invitations are given and accepted, the Big East finally seems ready to start moving toward its future, whatever that may be.
- Michael Vega
- Mark Blaudschun
- Nancy Marrapese-Burrell