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Uncertainty in Big East

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / October 13, 2011

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The decision by Missouri on whether to leave the Big 12 and head elsewhere - presumably to the Southeastern Conference - is a key to the future of not only the Big 12, but the Big East, and also could affect the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference.

And after another round of meetings and conference calls by Big East officials and school administrators yesterday ended without a consensus on how to move forward with expansion plans, conference sources were pessimistic about the future of Big East football, which was rocked by the departure of Syracuse and Pittsburgh last month.

Missouri’s role is crucial because if the Tigers choose to stay in the Big 12, conference officials have indicated that their configuration might remain at 10, with the addition of TCU.

But if Missouri leaves - as of yesterday, the prevailing theory was that it was still focused on joining Texas A&M as the 13th and 14th members of the SEC - the Big 12 would try to go from nine to 12 teams, with Big East members Louisville and West Virginia as the prime schools on the wish list.

Such a move might also happen even if Missouri remains. With the uncertainty in the Big East, both schools would make the move.

“Once that happens, all sorts of things happen, none of them good for the Big East,’’ said a Big East source. “Without those two schools, the [seven] non-football [members] would say they had enough and break off on their own.

“Notre Dame would be forced to make a decision and probably head to the ACC [as a 15th team]. If Notre Dame goes, then UConn would be the 16th team on that list.’’

Without Louisville, West Virginia, and UConn, the Big East would be reduced to three survivors: Rutgers, South Florida, and Cincinnati. Of them, Rutgers would have the best chance of hooking up with a BCS conference, with the Big Ten the most likely possibility. The Big Ten has studied the feasibility of moving further into the Northeast, with Rutgers the prime focus as an Eastern partner with Penn State.

All of this uncertainty - dominated by arguments between the basketball and football factions of the Big East - has slowed if not stopped the talk of expansion.

Yesterday, candidates such as Boise State, Central Florida, and Temple were discussed, but no consensus was reached on which one to invite first, or at all.

The basketball faction was adamant about not adding anyone, while the football faction argued that if the Big East is going to survive as a BCS conference, Boise State, with its high national profile, was a necessity.

This season is the last in a four-year cycle of data that is used in determining whether conferences qualify for an automatic BCS bid. A new four-year cycle will begin next season. The criteria used are:

1. average ranking of the highest ranked team

2. average conference ranking

3. top 25 performance ranking (for all teams in the conference)

Starting with the 2008 season (the first of the current cycle), the Big East would seem to be in trouble. In 2008, only Cincinnati, at No. 12, was in the final top 25 BCS rankings. In 2009, Cincinnati (3), West Virginia (16), and Pittsburgh (17) were ranked. In 2010, only West Virginia (22) was on the list.

The first BCS rankings of this season are due to be released Sunday, but if the coaches’ poll is used as a reference, only West Virginia (16) is ranked.

Conversely, Boise State has a solid record of top 10 finishes over the past three seasons, finishing ninth, sixth, and 10th. The Broncos are ranked seventh this week.

The problem the Big East has is simply coming to an agreement on anything. Central Florida and Temple are poised to become new members but have yet to receive the call simply because the basketball and football schools could not reach an understanding.

If there is a consensus about anything in the Big East, it is that none of the schools that are leaving will be allowed to depart until the 27-month waiting period put in for defecting teams expires; that means no school could join a new conference before the start of the 2014 season.

What also seems apparent is that the future of Big East football is very much in jeopardy. It is more likely to disappear than to reconfigure into a healthy, productive league. Potential members such as Boise State, Temple, and Central Florida must determine whether it is worth the risk to join.

The Big East did take care of one piece of business, hiring former UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway to a position in basketball operations. Hathaway also is scheduled to be chairman of the NCAA men’s tournament selection committee this winter.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.