Is Big East Expansion in Big Trouble; Here's A Blueprint For Fixing The Conference

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Which teams should the Big East add?

<p> The Big East desperately needs to expand to stay relevant in college football. Here's Athlon's take on what the conference can do for a new 12-team league.</p>

- By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

With the defections of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC, along with TCU’s decision to join the Big 12, the Big East is in desperation mode when it comes to expansion. Only six teams are locked into the league for 2012: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida and West Virginia. Pittsburgh and Syracuse are scheduled to remain in the league until 2014, but both teams could explore a buyout agreement to get out of the league earlier.

Believe it or not, it could get worse for the Big East. Louisville and West Virginia are both rumored targets for the Big 12 if Missouri decides to depart for the SEC. The Mountaineers are also believed to be a candidate to be the SEC’s 14th team.

Although the conference is in trouble, the six remaining teams – Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida and West Virginia – isn’t a bad place to start rebuilding. And this assumes West Virginia or Louisville won’t bolt to the Big 12 or SEC anytime soon.

In order to secure the future of the league, the remaining six schools have to agree to up the buyout. A payment of $5 million to leave a league simply isn’t enough.

Once the buyout is increased, potential expansion candidates will be interested in joining a league that has some stability. If the buyout is not increased, the Big East could have trouble attracting some members.

Considering what the Big East is working with in terms of available options, it may have to get creative in order to rebuild the conference. And there’s not much time to waste. Since losing Pittsburgh, Syracuse and TCU, the Big East seems to be moving at ridiculously slow rate when it comes to making decisions.

Forget what has made conferences in the past. Geography is out the window.

In order for the Big East to survive as a long-term, viable BCS league, it needs to land the best possible candidates and move to a 12-team setup. With the available candidates on the board, an East/West split is probably the most likely scenario.

Which team should get the first expansion invite? Boise State. Yes, the Broncos are a strange fit in terms of geography, but again, the Big East can’t think about that. Adding Boise State would give the conference an instant boost and a team that’s capable of competing for a spot among the top 10-15 every season. Academics have been a concern for conferences interested in Boise State, but rebuilding the football image of the Big East is important.

After Boise State is locked into the Big East as the seventh member, it’s time to add to the western edge.

Houston and SMU are logical targets from Conference USA and would get the Big East into two key television markets. While neither is going to outdraw the Big 12, it’s important to have a presence in Dallas and Houston.

The other question with the teams from the west is the service academies. Navy was prepared to join the conference, but the defections of Syracuse and Pittsburgh have slowed that possibility. Air Force seems prepared to leave the Mountain West, which makes the Falcons a logical target for the Big East. Air Force may not win a national title, but they can compete in the Big East and helps to bolster the conference’s national appeal.

In Athlon’s plan for the Big East, we are going to project Navy will decide to remain an independent. The Falcons may choose to turn down an invitation if Navy and Army don’t join. However, we will guess they accept a bid and join the remodeled Big East, which still leaves plenty of flexibility to schedule Army and Navy in non-conference games every year.

Choosing teams to build the east division was pretty easy. Temple and UCF are right in the Big East’s footprint and get the conference into the Philadelphia and Orlando television markets. If Temple or UCF say no, East Carolina is a strong fallback option.

South Florida may have some second thoughts about allowing another school from its state into the conference. However, the Big East can’t be choosy at this point. And there’s plenty of room for both schools in the conference.

Although Villanova is a member of the Big East’s basketball conference and is located in Philadelphia, the football team would need a couple of years to transition and sort out the stadium issues to move to the FBS level. Temple was kicked out of the Big East, but is a logical fit for the conference. Making a play for the Philadelphia market is key for the Big East, but Temple has a better shot at doing that right now, as opposed to waiting a couple of years for Villanova to move up and get ready to play at the FBS level. Additionally, the Owls are no longer a doormat and would be competitive in their first season.

There have been a lot of rumors and ideas thrown out on how to rebuild the conference, but here’s Athlon’s proposed Big East divisions for 2012:

East

Connecticut
Rutgers
South Florida
Temple
UCF
West Virginia

West

Air Force
Boise State
Cincinnati
Houston
Louisville
SMU

There you have it. The new Big East Conference and a title game played on the campus of the team with the best record or ranked the highest in the BCS if a tie occurs.

The divisions are fairly balanced, with West Virginia and Boise State as the anchors in each. 

It’s not going to win the award for the most difficult conference, but at least it keeps the Big East relevant. Adding Boise State is the key. With the Broncos in the mix, it gives the conference a team that already has credibility on the national level.

Time is running out for the Big East to stay relevant on the college football landscape. But this is a reasonable plan that makes sense for the conference in many ways.

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