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Big East ready to expand

Posted by Mark Blaudschun, Globe Staff  December 6, 2011 11:27 AM

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After two months of deliberation, the Big East will finally formalize its expansion plans with the addition of San Diego State, Boise State, Houston, Southern Methodist University and Central Florida, beginning with the 2013 season.

According to multiple sources at the Big East and at the schools involved, the announcement , barring any last second legal issues, could come as early as Wednesday. San Diego State and Boise State will become members in football only, while Houston, SMU and UCF will become members in all sports. The finalized expansion plans were first reported in the Newark Star Ledger on Monday.

The move is a counter to a series of defections the Big East has had to deal with over the past few months In September, Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced they were moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference and last month West Virginia announced it was moving to the Big 12.

Big East bylaws included a 27-month notification process before schools would be able to leave. The Big East said it would enforce that rule with all the schools who want to leave. Pittsburgh and Syracuse and the ACC said they would abide by the rules, which would not make those schools eligible for ACC competition until the 2014 football season.

West Virginia said it intended to play in the Big 12 next season. Lawsuits were filed in West Virginia and Rhode Island (where the Big East Conference offices are located). The matter is not expected to be settled before the spring, which would make West Virginia's entrance into the Big 12 problematical at best because of scheduling issues.

Big East officials, who still must negotiate a new television contract in the next several months, said they were focused on having a 12 team football league, which means that more additions will be coming. Navy and Air Force were in the original expansion push and could be joining the conference at a later date.

With the football configuration in place, the remaining members of the Big East basketball conference must decide if they want to continue their affiliation with football as a 16-team league that replaces Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia with Central Florida, SMU and Houston, or form their own conference.

The move to join the Big East by Boise State and Houston was accelerated this weekend when both schools, which had a combined record of 22-2 in football, were not chosen as at-large teams in the BCS bowls because they did not come from a conference that had automatic qualifying status. The Big East, which is an AQ conference, will send its champion, 9-3 West Virginia to the Orange Bowl to play ACC champion Clemson.

Although the future of the BCS configuration is very much in doubt, as are the automatic qualifying rules affecting the Big East, Boise State and Houston officials felt it was obviously a better risk to be part of a conference that has an easier path to the major bowls.

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