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Big East already starting to recruit

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / October 4, 2011

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A day after holding a meeting in Washington D.C. among its university presidents and chancellors at which commissioner John Marinatto was given permission to recruit new members, the Big East yesterday made preliminary moves to expand to 10 teams in football and 17 teams in basketball.

The Big East has been in crisis mode since 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 negotiations, the Big East is focusing on Southern Methodist, Central Florida, Navy, and Temple as the primary targets for football. Air Force is also being considered, but is a remote possibility

With the departure of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the Big East will be down to seven football teams next fall when TCU is scheduled to join the conference as a member in all sports.

Adding SMU, which would be a travel partner for TCU, and Central Florida would increase the total to nine teams. Temple becomes a strong option if Navy chooses to remain as an independent in football. Another possibility would be to add Villanova, which is a member of the Big East in all other sports, but the school’s administration would have to OK the jump from the championship subdivision to the bowl subdivision.

Some combination of these moves should stabilize the conference in football, which would guarantee the Big East maintaining its lucrative automatic BCS berth.

The basketball part is more complicated because the non-football members such as Providence, Seton Hall, Georgetown, and St. John’s have watched nervously as football controls the fate of the conference.

With the loss of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the basketball setup will shrink to 15 teams next year. Adding SMU and UCF will raise the level to 17.

Although TCU, SMU, and UCF might diminish the overall power of the basketball conference, which put a record 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament last year, sources among the schools involved say they could live with 17 teams. But they said 18 would be acceptable if Temple, which has been a force in the Atlantic 10, came in as a full member.

Temple, which was ejected from Big East football for nonperformance in 2004, would love to come back.

The Big East also is considering putting teeth into rules involving teams leaving the conference. 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, West Virginia, Rutgers, or Connecticut, who all have contemplated switching conferences, were to leave, they would not get their share of 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 the Southeastern Conference, the Big East is also ready to start making moves that it hopes will guarantee the survival of the football conference.

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