It’s GameDay No. 7 of the 2011 season, so, obviously, it’s time to discuss expansion instead of what may actually happen on the field.
Multiple reports emerged Friday that the Big East was on the verge of issuing invitations to six schools, with those membership invites coming as early as this weekend provided the exit fee issue could be resolved. While those invitations may not be as imminent as first thought, they could be on their way at the beginning of the upcoming week. Or have already been unofficially extended. One of the two.
According to the Newark Star-Ledger, and citing two individuals with knowledge of the conference’s conference call Friday, the Big East has agreed to pursue Boise State, Air Force and Navy as football-only members and UCF as a member in all sports. Per Big East bylaws, the Star-Ledger writes, “the conference must wait 72 hours before officially extending any invitations — giving schools that have been targeted a chance to reconsider.” Such a timeline would mean the invitations would officially be sent on Monday if the report is accurate.
The second phase of the Big East’s rebuilding plan would be to then invite Houston and SMU once that quartet of schools is secured.
“We are aware of the growing speculation regarding conference realignment and do not feel it would be appropriate to comment on the possible intentions of another league,” Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades said in a statement released by the university late last night. “We are flattered to be mentioned as an athletics program of national importance and we are grateful for our strong traditions and the dedication of our fans, alumni, staff and student-athletes.”
ESPN.com reports, however, that the Big East has already sent conditional invitations to Houston and SMU for all sports and Air Force and Boise State for football only. In a text message to the Idaho Statesman, BSU interim athletic director Curt Apsey denied that his football program has received an invitation from the Big East. On the other hand, a source told the Dallas Morning News that SMU has received an invite from the conference.
There could be a couple of snags in the Big East’s grand plans to get to an even dozen football-playing members. Navy, which has been mentioned in connection to the conference for weeks but has been skeptical about joining such an unstable grouping, continues to hold reservations about the long-term viability of the Big East. The military academy will have to be convinced of the conference’s stability before accepting an offer and moving on from football independence; it’s believed an increase in exit fees from the current $5 million to somewhere north of $10 million would alleviate some of Navy’s concerns.
If Navy backs out of the opportunity, it could pave the way for Temple’s membership in the Big East. As it stands now, the current MAC football school has been blocked from receiving an invitation from the Big East by another Philadelphia school, Villanova. The New York Daily News reports that the other Catholic schools in the Big East helped keep Temple from becoming one of the six schools that would receive an invitation.
And then there’s the crown jewel — or biggest snag — of what would be the Big East’s attempt at renewal, Boise State. The Broncos, as well as Air Force, participated in the vote to form an alliance between the Mountain West and Conference USA in football. A source told ESPN.com that the MWC went ahead with the quasi-merger when BSU indicated that it planned on staying in the conference. The source went on to state “that if Boise State and Air Force had reservations about the MWC, C-USA or the alliance between the two, they would have abstained or been absent from Friday’s conference call.”
As has been the case for the past couple of weeks, Boise State’s biggest concern when it comes to a move to the Big East is not geography but rather if the conference can maintain its automatic BcS berth. If BSU can receive assurances that the Big East will maintain their automatic qualifier status beyond 2013, the school would have no reservations in making the move. How they would go about receiving those assurances remains unclear.
Should all of the Big East’s grandiose expansion dreams come to fruition and they add the schools they’ve voted on pursuing, any geographical concerns Boise State may have would be allayed somewhat by the divisional makeup of the reconstituted conference. According to the Star-Ledger, the Big East would split into two six-team divisions that would look as follows:
East: Rutgers, Connecticut, West Virginia, Central Florida, South Florida and Navy.
West: Boise State, Air Force, Houston, SMU, Louisville and Cincinnati.
Of course, that’s provided Missouri doesn’t bolt for the SEC with Louisville taking their place in the Big 12 and OMG my head hurts make it stop play some football already…