Big East Football Approves Expansion
First, the Pac-10 came calling for Texas and Oklahoma, and instead landed Colorado and Utah. Then, the Big Ten came calling for Notre Dame and landed Nebraska. Then, the SEC courted Texas A&M and instead stayed put. And so it goes in the aim-high, settle-low game of college football expansion. The latest conference joining the adventure appears to be the Big East.
The league won't officially comment about anything specific, but speculation has focused on six schools: Villanova, TCU, Central Florida, Houston, Temple and Memphis.
A Big East athletic director told FanHouse the league is "considering numerous schools. All the usual suspects."
The Big East's official statement read as follows: "The Big East Conference submitted the results of its extensive self-analysis and evaluation of the college athletics environment today at its annual Conference Board of Directors meeting. Based on those results, the Big East presidents agreed that the interests of each of the conference's 16 member institutions would be served by increasing the number of Bowl Subdivision football-playing members to 10. They unanimously approved the process to evaluate the terms and conditions for potential expansion candidates."
Although Big East expansion talk is nothing new, there is added intrigue now that they've cited a number, with up to 10 schools participating in FBS football.
Although not the most lucrative addition, Villanova (pictured above right with the FCS championship trophy) seems the most obvious pickup as it is already a Big East member for basketball and is openly exploring moving its football program from the FCS to the FBS. The Wildcats actually were a Division I (later Division I-A) football school from 1973 until 1980. They are situated in Philadelphia's big television market, but also share it with another Big East candidate, Temple.
The Owls were themselves formerly part of the Big East starting in 1991 until getting dropped in 2004 thanks to an overall abysmal performance record in football.
Adding either of those programs would be a fairly safe, reliable move.
Where things get interesting is if the Big East dives down south once again to grab a Florida or Texas program. Several media outlets have reported mutual interest between the Big East and TCU, of all programs. It has been a crazy few decades for the Horned Frogs, who since 1995 have bounced around from the old Southwest Conference to the WAC to Conference USA and now the Mountain West. Despite football's importance in Texas, they haven't been able to hitch a ride with a major conference – until now, perhaps.
Travel, particularly for the so-called non-revenue sports would be particularly expensive and challenging, but the Big East already has its tentacles in Florida while the WAC stretches from Hawaii to Louisiana. Its uncomfortable, but it can be done.
Two complicating factors will be how the conference's basketball-only members feel about certain additions to the family and the overall expansion game beyond the Big East's control.
On the former, the Big East's basketball reputation is everything its football reputation is not. It is considered, along with the ACC, to be the best basketball conference out there. The league has achieved high-level success in the regular season and in the NCAA tournament that has not been seen within Big East football since Rich Rodriguez left West Virginia and before that since Miami left for the ACC. While basketball is no slouch and pulls in plenty of money, even in a diminished role the football schools still have plenty of say in how things proceed.
On the latter, there has been speculation in recent years that the Big Ten would seek out a program like Rutgers to gain greater access to the New York television market. It is speculative but we probably came very close to seeing that happen this summer had Texas joined the Pac-10, spurring the Big Ten into grabbing not just Nebraska but possibly Rutgers and then Notre Dame.
Several disparate forces combined to keep that from happening, but the Big East may not be so lucky the next time around. As we've seen with the Pac-10's recent moves, the key to survival likely hinges on not getting poached while doing a little poaching yourself.