Big East Expansion: Notre Dame, TCU, Central Florida, Houston, Villanova?

-- See SB Nation's Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician for a Syracuse-Louisville preview. -- See SB Nation's On The Banks for what Scarlet Knights fans learned in Thursday night's 28-27 loss. -- Keep updated on the Big East expansion

It's a quiet weekend in the Big East with USF beating Rutgers, 28-27, on Thursday night and four other teams (Pittsburgh, West Virginia, UConn and Cincinnati) having byes.

This leaves only one matchup for Saturday afternoon, Syracuse at Louisville.

Though the Orange (6-2, 3-1 Big East) and the Cardinals (4-4, 1-2) should put on a pretty decent show for Big East followers, it's the conferences decision to expand to 10 football-playing members that will still have college football fans buzzing past Saturday.

"Tuesday's announcement was hardly out of the blue," wrote ESPN.com Big East Blogger Brian Bennett on Tuesday. "While many fans criticized commissioner John Marinatto for not doing anything during the summer conference madness, the Big East has been quietly mapping out its future strategy."

It's obvious that this decision was made because a) the struggling Big East would not survive without some sort of change; b) bringing in more and or better competition is always good; c) fixing the mess of scheduling that asks coaches to find five non-conference opponents (most BCS programs schedule three or four) and play every other season with four road, three home, conference games is a plus; and d) money, lots and lots of money -- also known as "conference exposure".

There's no doubt in my mind that during a roundt able discussion these Big East presidents, who "approved the process to evaluate the terms and conditions for potential expansion candidates", were thinking about their bonus check in a couple years. But, that's a column for a different time.

What's on everyone's mind is who will be invited and join the Big East. The current list of invitees are rumored to be: Villanova, TCU, Central Florida, Houston, Temple, Marshall, East Carolina, Navy, Army and possibly -- but very unrealistically -- Notre Dame. And just like Tiger Woods' list of mistresses, I am sure as time passes there will be more schools added to the list.

However, who actually has a shot of being one of the lucky -- or unlucky -- programs is what everyone is trying to figure out.

Here are some of the ideas being shared:

Kevin Gorman of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review says it time the Big East put pressure on Notre Dame to join as a football member or drop them in basketball.

"Notre Dame has been adamant that it wants to maintain its football independence, and the Big East has been a convenient home for the Fighting Irish. Their basketball and other programs have a place to play without having to share their NBC television revenue for football."

"That has to change, and both the Big East and Notre Dame could benefit."

Others think that the Big East just needs to drop Notre Dame altogether.

On Friday, Russell Blair of The Daily Campus, an independent news source of the University of Connecticut, wrote that the Big East needs to do three things if it wants to be a dominate force in football and basketball: Get rid of Notre Dame, drop the basketball-only schools and add four new programs, for all sports.

My quick response to these two ideas are: First, there's no way that Notre Dame just foregoes its huge television contract for the Big East Network. As I commented earlier, no school president says no to money. Second, the Big East can't just drop or add programs.

"I think sometimes people get a little confused at what the 'Big East' really is," wrote ESPN's Bennett in a Tuesday mailbag devoted to the Big East expansion. " It's not some outside organization that can tell the schools what to do. The league office works for the member schools. So the other presidents and athletic directors would have to agree and vote on whether to kick schools out of the league."

Conclusion: Notre Dame isn't going anywhere.

There is also this puzzling question: The Big East has 16 men's basketball teams, should it only allow the incoming school to just participate in football? 

"If the Big East is serious about adding TCU as part of its effort to get to 10 teams in football, then it can expect its basketball league to bloat to at least 17 members," wrote ESPN.com college basketball analyst Andy Katz on Thursday. "According to a Mountain West official, league bylaws demand that a member play in all major sports, meaning that TCU couldn't ship its football program to an automatic-qualifying BCS conference like the Big East and still keep its men's and women's basketball programs in the MWC."

Orlando Sentinel sports commentator Mike Bianchi thinks UCF should tell the Big East to "Fuhgeddaaboudit!" if they ask the Knights to be a football-only member.

"As tempting as it may be for the UCF football program to gain a long-awaited membership into a BCS conference, UCF should not surrender its self-respect and go into the Big East as a second-class citizen."

"UCF has been the University of South Florida's dirty-faced little brother for long enough. If USF is a full member of the Big East then UCF should be, too."

So, what's the solution to this wrinkle if both TCU (9-0, 5-0 Mount West and ranked No. 3 in the latest BCS standings) and UCF (6-2, 4-0 Conference USA) -- arguably the two best football programs on the list -- require that they become two-sport Big East programs?

If that's the case then one school, which is already in the conference but not playing football, probably should be added -- this would keep basketball from becoming a 17 or 18-team super league.

Villanova is the perfect fit because all it needs to do is move from FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) to FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision).

"Villanova holds the key to everything," wrote Syracuse Post-Standard writer Donnie Webb on Friday in his breakdown of the Big East possible invitees. "They're in if they want."

It seems that the Big East will target the Wildcats (6-2, 4-1 CAA) after it gets its big-name school, which Rival.com's Tom Dienhart says needs to be either TCU, Houston, East Carolina or Memphis.

"To truly make the conference more attractive from a television standpoint, the Big East must stretch its boundaries," commented Dienhart during the websites weekly college football roundtable.

It comes down to TCU being the biggest name and best football team but thousands of miles away; UCF being, most likely, the best fit (the success of USF supports this thought) but not what the Big East wants; Houston as the third wheel; East Carolina the one who wants the most to be invited but probably won't; and the rest just backup plans.

My guess (which is as good as yours) is Villanova and UCF become the new members.

It would be nice to see the Horned Frogs but the logistics don't seem to work out. Too much needs to be agreed upon for it to be feasible. Same thing with Houston. In the end, UCF probably will cave to anything the Big East asks because for its program to take the next step it needs the Big East and that "conference exposure".

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