The Big East plans to aggressively and ambitiously pursue new conference members, but where exactly does it turn?
After losing Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC, the Big East is down to seven football playing schools, assuming TCU joins in 2012, and 10 basketball-only schools. If the league hopes to keep its automatic BCS bid, which runs through 2014, it'll likely have to add at least three more FBS football schools.
So who exactly does the Big East grab to bolster its depleted ranks? IBTimes takes a look at some of the best options it could grab.
Best Option: Merger with Big 12 teams
Although no team in the Big East would ever admit to actively rooting for the Big 12's demise, reports that Oklahoma and Texas may stay in the conference don't bode particularly well for the Big East. The Big 12's impending implosion led the ACC to strike and grab Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the Big East, but the bright side was that the Big East could scoop up Kansas, Kansas State, and some of the other forgotten Big 12 members.
Reports indicated that the Big East was actually discussing a merger with the remaining Big 12 teams, but one now has to question how likely that's to happen. If the Big 12 manages to retain Oklahoma and Texas, which looks fairly likely after the Pac-12 halted its expansion, would it make sense for the conference to merge with the Big East?
It doesn't make a whole lot of geographic sense and it seems the Big 12 is far more interested in poaching programs like Air Force and BYU than combining forces with the Big East. The Big East would love to add programs like Missouri and Kansas, but this ship may have sailed.
Likelihood: Diminishing at each passing hour. If Oklahoma and Texas bail then it's high, but right now it looks like the Big 12 has been salvaged and will look to expand itself rather than merge with any conference.
Next best fit: Raid Conference-USA
The Big East has already raided Conference USA once, so why not double dip and grab the best remaining fits? In 2005, the Big East expanded to 16 teams when it added Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette, and South Florida, and could add a few of the leftover members.
East Carolina has reportedly officially applied for Big East membership, though that should come as no surprise -- the Pirates have practically begged for a Big East invite. Whether the Big East would want to add a school that isn't particularly dominant on the athletic fields or in the classrooms remains to be seen.
In addition to East Carolina, Conference-USA boasts a few good fits for the Big East. Some Big East schools, including Louisville, have already lobbied for the inclusion of Memphis, which adds strong basketball, decent market, but very weak football.
Central Florida, Houston, and Southern Methodist could also be added to improve the Big East's current crisis. All programs would likely jump at a Big East invite and could help the conference expand its geographic footprint. Central Florida brings the Orlando television market, Houston helps the Big East tap into that market, and SMU has a loyal, growing fan base.
Likelihood: If the Big East wants C-USA programs it can likely have them, it just depends on whether it chooses to extend invites. None of the C-USA teams come with great name cache or strong football reputations, but a few additions could help secure stability.
Most Interesting Fit: Navy
CBSports' Brett McMurphy reported on Tuesday that the Big East was very close to adding Navy before Pittsburgh and Syracuse bailed for the ACC. Navy, one of the nation's service academies, would be an extremely interesting fit for the Big East. The conference would likely add Navy for football only -- the opposite deal Notre Dame has with the conference -- to help boost reputation and recognition.
Navy will likely never be a football power based on the current landscape of college athletics, but performs pretty well on the field. Navy has made eight straight bowl games and has won eight or more games for three straight seasons. The school has a sterling reputation and appeals to anyone who has ever served in the Navy.
Likelihood: Fairly high, if McMurphy's report is to be believed. Makes sense for Navy to guarantee itself a seat in the conference realignment carousel, while the Big East adds a well-known and well-liked program. One of the issues to work out is to ensure that Navy can maintain its rivalries with Air Force, Army, and Notre Dame, but that can likely be worked out.The conference could even ask Navy to bring along its service academy buddies to the Big East.
Pipe Dream: Convince Notre Dame to join full-time
Although quite unlikely, it'd sure make the Big East happy if Notre Dame decided to finally join the conference full-time. Notre Dame has long resisted giving up its independent football status, but have said that it'd consider conference membership if the situation dictated it. There was some growing noise that Notre Dame could finally join a conference when it looked likely that the Big 12 and Big East were dead, but growing calm means Notre Dame will likely go with the status quo.
Further, if Notre Dame were to ever join a conference it's more likely it'd join the ACC or Big 10 than the Big East.
Likelihood: Not happening.
Other Possible Fits:
The Big East has pushed and encouraged Villanova to move up to FBS level football, but the small, Catholic school has continued to resist the efforts. Villanova has had a lot of success in FCS football, including winning a national championship in 2009, but doesn't want to make the big jump up.
Budget issues and fan support could ultimately be issues if the Wildcats were to jump to the next level, and that's likely encouraged the school's administration to pump the brakes on any big changes.
Villanova was reported to have applied for membership in the ACC, but sources indicate it was as a basketball-only addition. College football is clearly driving expansion talks, and Villanova knows that, but right now the school seems content in sticking with what it has.
Likelihood: Small, but you never know.
Temple's already been in the Big East for one go around before the conference expelled the school in 2004. Temple has since improved its athletic programs and has two strong coaches -- Fran Dunphy for basketball and Steve Addazio for football -- leading its two biggest moneymakers.
But would the Big East really extend an invite to a school it had once expelled? And would Temple really comeback to the Big East after it got kicked out?
Possibly, but the scenario is probably unlikely. Temple's improved across the board, but still faces issues in drawing strong football attendances and doesn't really tap into the professional sports dominated Philadelphia television market. Reports indicate Temple could be a secondary choice for the Big East, but it'd be a bit surprising if it actually happened.
Likelihood: Anything is possible, but this seems like a longshot right now.
Last Possible Option: Stand pat
Big East commissioner John Marinatto promised an aggressive search for new conference members, but it's possible the conference stands pat for a bit and waits to see how everything shakes out. This move wouldn't be advocated for by this writer, but patience could help prevent the conference from making a big blunder.
Conference realignment has moved at an incredibly rapid pace which could lead to mistakes and regret. The Big East is in the most tenuous situation of any of the big conferences - meaning any move it makes is of the utmost importance to its long-term survival.
The conference wants to make a move, but waiting a little to make sure the Big 12 actually comes back together could prevent the conference from making a bad mistake. Long-term the conference needs to add more members, but the conference could wait a few months before offering out invites.