Big East Expansion Candidates and the Basketball School Usurping of Power
The Big East seems to have gone a slightly different route in their expansion plans compared to what they were doing when solely looking for a #10. One has to question how losing Pitt and Syracuse would change the types of candidates when you look at who they WERE looking at just a few months ago: Villanova (upgrade to FBS), UCF or Houston for all-sports.
And the answer has to do with the hybrid.
It’s a less discussed issue, but clearly, if the top candidates now are football-only members (more on that in a second), then it shows that either the Big East football schools WANT to maintain the hybrid with the 8 non-football schools, and/or the Big East football schools do not feel that they longer have the power (cache or number of votes) to get any and all of the all-sports schools they had been looking at.
So before we look at the Big East candidates, let’s look at the…
Big East Flight Risks:
Despite the rumored pledge to remain together, multiple Big East schools are actively seeking other opportunities. Others are not petitioning as hard, but open to a move:
Uconn: seeking ACC membership
Rutgers: seeking ACC membership, interested in Big Ten membership
WVU: seeking SEC membership for their #14 spot, but also interested in ACC membership should they expand to 16. Also considered a candidate for the Big 12 should they expand to 12.
Louisville: a possible candidate for the Big 12, also considered an option for the SEC #14 if Missouri officially passes and the SEC opts against WVU. This is still assuming no ACC school is SEc #14.
TCU: is considered to be one of the top 2 options for the Big 12 expected #10 spot. Could also be a target for Big 12 if they expand to 12. Should the Big East lose any more members, TCU is also legally able to remain in the Mountain West conference and never officially join the Big East for active play.
And now the rumored top Big East candidates are:
Navy (football-only): Navy has expressed less interest in joining until the stability issues of the conference are resolved involving schools such as Rutgers, UConn, WVU, Louisville and TCU.
Air Force (football-only): Yes, the geography makes no sense. But the rationale is that if the Big East could get Navy, Air Force would join and vice versa, uniting two of the 3 service academies (Army is not interested). The issue with Air Force is that they would need a conference for it’s other sports. Due to NCAA rules, Air Force could not compete in the Big East for football and remain in the Mountain West for other sports as if a conference sponsors a sport at the competition level (FBS), they are not permitted to put that sport (football) into another conference. The “work around” for that rule involves football independence only (BYU could have remained in MWC for non-football sports, Notre Dame is in the Big East for non-football sports.
UCF (all-sports): the school made it clear 8 months ago that they would only join the Big East is extended an all-sports invitation. When the Big East expanded to 9/17 with TCU, it made sense as UCF would be the 10th football and the even 18th for other sports, teaming them with nearby USF. However, sources claim that USF is doing every thing they can to block UCF from joining.
Villanova: the Big East member has considered an upgrade to be the Big East #10 school. Due to stadium issues and hesitations by Big East members that a Villanova addition would add little to the football profile and would potentially diminish the conference unless they committed to a much larger expansion of the proposed rented stadium, Villanova was put on the back burner as a top candidate.
Temple (football-only): a lesser candidate in the Tier 2 to Tier 3 range, Temple would allow the Big East to add an existing FBS program from within the Philadelphia market. Unlike Villanova, Temple leases the NFL Philadelphia Eagles stadium, so has no capacity issues like Villanova would. Of course Villanova would try to block Temple by all means, putting Temple in the “football only” category. Unless the football schools split off from the basketball schools, Temple is a less likely candidate.
ECU (football-only): ECU is the perennial Big East candidate…if by candidate you mean they have been trying for 20 years to get in the Big East. The Big East has lost Temple (voted out), Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College while adding WVU, Rutgers and VA Tech for non-football sports (schools were in A10 prior to Big East), Louisville & Cincinnati for all sports, a relative FBS newcomer at the time for all sports in USF, Depaul and Marquette for non-football sports, Uconn from FBS and most recently, TCU for all sports. Checking the scoreboard, that was 9 all-sports members added and 5 football schools with ECU being left out.
This time around, things could be different for ECU.
If the Big East football schools no longer have the power to bring in any school they want at whatever price (TCU helped football but did nothing for basketball), then those schools willing to join for football-only will be easier to get voted in.
ECU has gone on the record stating they would join the Big East for football-only. They would likely reach out to the A10 for a non-football home but would likely be rejected. The CAA would be the next option to house their other sports, a logical fit. But if the CAA rejected their former member, ECU would need to look for a lower conference like the SoCon or Atlantic Sun. But with ECU being a “football first” school, it would be well worth the move.
So 20 years later, ECU might have it’s best shot. And in the fashion one would expect after 2 decades of rejection, ECU joining would likely be solely because of internal issues within the Big East, and not what ECU brings to the table. At a time where the top BCS conferences are looking to add schools providing large market penetration, national and state controlling market share, and all-sports excellence, ECU could be in the Big East within weeks solely because the Big East majority does not want to add more all-sports schools.
And ECU might even be able to slip in all of their sports into the Big East due to the USF blocking of UCF or a TCU defection to the Big 12, of any current all-sports school leaving the Big East.
Things have never been so optimistic for the ECU faithful.
Meanwhile, there is a school seemingly off the Big East expansion list that seemed to be #1 or #2 just a month ago: Houston.
Houston became a popular choice after the TCU addition, due to it’s market and proximity to TCU which was so far away from the other Big East members. On paper, it made scheduling for other sports easy: fly your teams to Dallas for a game versus TCU and the next day or so, a short flight to Houston. But like TCU and UCF, Houston would require all-sports membership. In a pre-Pitt/Syracuse to ACC world, the football schools had that cache. But now, an all-sports member from so far outside the footprint is seemingly less desirable to the Big East non-football members.
Other schools considered would start with Memphis.
Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino has gone on the record as saying that Memphis would be a great addition…but would need to commit to football. And with TCU in the league, Memphis would be a logical bridge to connect both USF to TCU and Louisville to TCU. The problem being that Memphis would need to join for all-sports to reap the benefits of their basketball program, but expansion right now is only to improve the football product…something Memphis wouldn’t immediately do.
Another school partially on the radar would be recent FBS upgrade, UMass. The school will participate in the MAC and play it’s games in the NFL New England Patriots stadium in Foxboro. Timing is what hurts UMass’ chances. The school would make for a stronger New England presence and in 2004, had the support of Providence should the basketball schools split from the football split that year. But as an FBS newcomer, UMass would do little to help retain the Big East BCS AQ bid.
The Big East now finds itself in a tough spot.
Even if they retain all 7 schools, they need to add strength and potential. UCF and Houston would be those top candidates. But both require all-sports membership. But if the basketball schools are less interested in adding new all-sports members, it means the Big East must turn to the football-only candidates.
So if 2 weeks from now, the Big East football 7 were to add ECU, Navy and Air Force for a group of 10, one should not be shocked.
Nor should they be impressed.