The action on Big East expansion is expected to take significant steps toward coming to fruition this week. Big East presidents voted unanimously last week to formally extend invitations to a number of schools to try and rebuild the conference with the losses of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, TCU and West Virginia. While the conference never formally announced to whom the invitations would be going, it’s believed Boise State, Air Force and Navy will be brought in as football-only members and Houston, SMU and UCF in all sports.
However, one of those options could be on the proverbial fence. Frank Schwab of the Colorado Springs Gazette reports last night that Air Force superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould is having reservations about joining the Big East, even if it means an increase in yearly payout to the school. The Big East hopes to maintain its automatic qualifying status past 2013 — when the BCS votes on future membership — and to have a newly drawn-up television contract; the Big East had reportedly turned down a TV offer from ESPN earlier this year worth over $1 billion.
Gould is reportedly indecisive about the uncertainty surrounding both TV money and the stability of the Big East.
“Air Force is diligent and they’re doing the right thing in saying, ‘Let me know all the answers to all the questions,’” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said. “Not everybody has done it that way. They’ve kind of gone in saying ‘We’re going, then we’ll figure it all out.’ Air Force has said, ‘No, we’ll figure it out, then we’ll decide if we’re going.’”
The Mountain West and Conference USA have also formed a football-only conference to help secure their own future in the wake of conference shifting. The 22-member (for now) alliance is set to begin next year and a television contract is reportedly in the works. How much that contract is expected to produce — even if it’s split among a larger pot — could have a huge influence on whether Air Force stays or leaves.
Money is obviously a driving force in realignment, but so is stability. The question for Air Force appears to be coming down to which option maximizes both. The Gazette explains the academy’s dilemma:
Athletic director Hans Mueh was discussing the new board of directors for Air Force athletics’ newly-established a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation – which will be able to raise funds directly – when he gave some insight into his athletic department’s financial concerns.
“The Air Force is going to have to tighten its belt for the next 10 years, because it’s almost $500 billion in cuts they will face,” said Mueh, who has declined interviews and opportunities to comment on realignment in recent weeks. “The chance for us to get any kind of increase in revenue from the Air Force … and we understand that – this is a much bigger issue than us. What it does say is we need a new funding stream.”
Air Force has also been a long-standing member of the Mountain West and there’s rumor that loyalty to the non-AQ conference could be a deciding factor as well. Whether or not it’s the overriding factor remains to be seen.