The Big East was dealt another major blow on Tuesday when word leaked out that West Virginia had agreed to join the Big 12.
West Virginia will be replacing Missouri as the Big 12's 10th school, while the Big East goes back to the drawing board with only five football-playing schools remaining in the conference.
The loss of West Virginia -- the most well-known football program left in the Big East -- could be the death blow that some have been predicting for months. The Big East is left with no notable football schools and may not be able to attract any quality schools to take a chance on the seemingly always unstable conference.
So where does the Big East go from here? What options does it have to ensure the conference's long-term future and stability?
Current Plan Plus BYU
The primary option that the Big East has is to simply expand with a huge batch of new schools. The Big East planned to offer invites to Air Force, Boise State, Central Florida, Houston, Navy, and SMU to boost the conference's total to 12 football schools, but clearly that plan will need to be slightly altered.
With the loss of West Virginia, the Big East now must more than double the size of its conference through expansion. The ideal option for the Big East at this point would be to add the aforementioned schools and add BYU to the mix.
There have been mixed reports about BYU's interest in the Big 12, so it's unclear whether the Cougars would be interested in joining the Big East. Earlier reports this week indicated that BYU was interested in joining the Big 12, but that the conference preferred West Virginia.
If the Big East could convince BYU to join the conference, it'd be able to split the conference into two ideal divisions. The Big East could add Central Florida to the remaining members to make up an East Division, while the other six divisions could make up a West Division.
This is the best possible scenario for the Big East at this point.
Current Plan Plus Temple
The next best option for the Big East after BYU would be to add Temple. Temple was at one point in the Big East, but was booted for poor performance. Since the Big East's dismissal, Temple has built up its football program, has a strong basketball team under Fran Dunphy, and could possibly tap into the Philadelphia television market.
The biggest resistance to Temple up to this point has been fellow Big 5 member, Villanova. Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright emphatically told reporters at the Big East's basketball media day last week that Villanova wasn't blocking Temple per say, but that Villanova wanted to be in the Big East for football.
Villanova wants to be in the Big East for football, bottom line, Wright told reporters. We've said it. We've worked with the Big East on it. We understand the situation in the Big East right now. We have to be loyal members and let the football schools do what's best.
Temple already plans at the FBS level and has seen some success, while Villanova would need to make the jump up from the FCS level. Temple is undoubtedly the better option, but Villanova could be considered based on the Big East's current desperation level.
One of the biggest issues, though, is that the Big East needs as many viable football programs as possible right now and it'd take a few years for Villanova to be able to compete at the FBS level.
Based on the way things have gone at this point, one would imagine that Villanova's concerns would be overruled if the Big East really wants Temple. If the conference is unable to add BYU, Temple would be the next best option.
Villanova wouldn't add very much to the table right now on the football side of things, but the school has been loyal to the conference for 30 years and that could be taken into account given the betrayal of fellow conference brethren.
Current Plan Plus Memphis and/or East Carolina
Both Memphis and East Carolina have expressed interest in joining the Big East for years, but both have been gently rebuffed each time. It's doubtful that much has changed since East Carolina officially applied to join the Big East in September, but the Big East might finally be desperate enough to accept the Conference USA leftover.
The main question is what are the benefits of adding Memphis or East Carolina? Sure, the Big East would have some extra schools that play football, but neither represents has a legitimate or well-known football program. Instead it would just represent additional mouths to feed that add very little financially to the conference.
If it were to get to this point, don't be shocked to see the basketball-only programs breaking away from the rest of the teams. Big East commissioner John Marinatto has adamantly claimed that is not an option and hasn't been discussed, but the basketball-only, Catholic schools will not allow for just anyone to join the conference.
Super Merger with Conference USA, Mountain West
The Boston Globe has reported on a possible super merger by the Big East, Conference USA, and Mountain West in order to maintain the BCS automatic qualifying status. The league would contain anywhere from 28 to 32 schools in a four division setup.
The plan would allow for the Big East to maintain its automatic qualifier status by combining with the majority of Conference USA and Mountain West.
What's the likelihood that this will happen?
Decent at this point, especially when you consider that Conference USA and Mountain West have already discussed a possible alliance between all of the schools. The Big East would clearly prefer to act on its own without an alliance like this, but it might be the conference's only chance to possibly hold onto its BCS status.
The proposed alliance is no guarantee to keep the BCS status, though, but at this point the Big East doesn't have many alternative options.
What Will Ultimately Happen?
It's hard to avoid the doomsday like scenarios that IBTimes wrote about two weeks ago. With West Virginia heading to the Big 12, it makes sense for others to try to jump ship and for the Big East to ultimately implode.
Most will signal West Virginia's move to the Big 12 as the death of the Big East, but the important school to watch is Notre Dame. If Notre Dame continues to keep its programs in the Big East, it's conceivable that the conference could possibly survive.
If Notre Dame decides to move its non-football programs to the Big 12, as Chip Brown has speculated, or moves all of its sports to the Big 10, then say goodnight to the Big East.
Because Notre Dame would likely bring along Rutgers or Connecticut with it to the Big 10 or another conference, which would leave the Big East with even less football-playing schools. But if Notre Dame remains committed and the basketball-only schools continue to be lenient about extending invites, the Big East has a chance to survive.
After Notre Dame, the most important thing for the Big East is to lock down its expansion targets. It met with a group this past Sunday in Washington, D.C., but did not extend any invites. The Big East needs to move extremely quickly and convince as many schools as possible to agree to join the conference.
Marinatto has shown absolutely no such speed or competency in expansion talks, but if the slight sliver of hope for the Big East depends upon the commissioner using every ounce of intelligence going forward.
Ultimately, it's conceivable -- perhaps even likely -- that the Big East will survive in some capacity. The biggest issue going forward might be relevancy.
If you are a fan or supporter of the Big East -- watch to see what Notre Dame does and hope for the best when it comes to expansion targets saying yes to Big East invites.
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