Conference Realignment: Big East Expansion Plans Will Not Save Its Future

The Big East Conference announced plans today to invite six more programs: Boise State, Navy, Air Force for football, and SMU, Houston and UCF in all sports. SB Nation New York's Jared Smith thinks the expansion plans will not save the league's future.

In a state of survival, the Big East Conference announced Tuesday that it will invite six new programs: Boise State University, Navy, Air Force for football, and Southern Methodist University, the University of Houston and The University of Central Florida in all sports. The additions, which will not be not finalized until each school accepts the invitation, are to replace the loss of Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh, which each joined the Atlantic Coast Conference just over a month ago; and West Virginia University and Texas Christian University,  which accepted invitations to the Big 12 Conference, and, hopefully, ensure that the league will survive -- meaning it keeps its Bowl Championship Series automatic qualifying bid.

Hypothetically, if all six invitations are accepted, which seems to be the case, then here's what the Big East could look like:

East Division

  • The University of Connecticut*
  • Rutgers University*
  • Navy
  • The University of South Florida*
  • The University of Cincinnati*
  • The University of Louisville*
  • UCF

West Division

  • Boise State
  • Houston
  • SMU
  • Air Force

(* The program is already an existing member of the Big East.)

Meanwhile, the Big East will need to look for another member to help the league reach 12-football playing programs -- which was the Big East's goal before the four programs left. Rumors have Brigham Young University, the University of Memphis and Temple University as possible considerations to fill that void.

Right now, it looks as if bringing in BYU is a long shot, but if the Big East can somehow convince the school that joining the conference is a better option than staying independent or possibly joining the Big 12 then, with Boise State, it would be a huge win for the conference that wants to keep its automatic qualifying status come 2014.

For the other two targets, Temple has been on the Big East radar for some time now and is probably the best option for that 12th spot. The issue is, Temple would provide eight programs on the East Coast, which would make creating a schedule very tricky. (Unless, Louisville moves into the West Division.) Memphis, on the other hand, is in the middle of the country, much closer to the western-located schools, and provides a decent men's basketball program.

It is obvious that the only way the Big East sees itself surviving the conference-realignment apocalypse is to expand West (yes, it is possible that the Big East is trapped in the 18th century) and to forget about its historical roots -- men's college basketball. However, I don't know if this strategy is going to work. Here's why:

First, the odds of Louisville, UConn and possibly Cincinnati exiting are still pretty good (if not, the odds are about the same as those schools staying in a league that failed them miserably). So, if one of those three schools bolts the Big East will need to fill those holes, which will more than likely be filled by programs of less quality.

Second, the Big East is basically modeling its expansion plans so it can throw all its eggs in the Boise State football basket. Out of the six programs the Big East invited, only Boise State, which is currently ranked No. 5 in the AP Poll, USA Today/Coaches Poll and the BCS Rankigns, is the biggest draw and possibly money maker when it comes to football.

(Easy, Houston and UCF. Yes, you two will be mild improvements to the league for football, but outside your television markets -- Houston and Orlando -- your programs not a huge get for any league. If they were you would have been invited to an automatic qualifying conference already. And, settle down Navy and Air Force. You may protect the borders and your annual meeting might boost some morale, but no casual football fan is getting amped to see you two match up with anybody.)

The Big East -- and, Boise too -- is hoping that if it gets the (no longer) Cinderella program to join, it will almost be impossible for the BCS to strip away the conference's automatic qualfying status. The Big East thinking here is: "There's no way the BCS is going to screw Boise over, again. The college football world would be in an uproar if Boise, a top-five program, moves to a conference that has its automatic qualifying status stripped away."

My response to the Big East is, "have you been paying attention the last five or so years? The BCS will do anything to screw over Boise." To possibly bank on that is terrible strategy (but, what else is new in the Big East?).

Third, this move is being made out of desperation -- not out of coherent thinking. Everyone involved in this plot is thinking about themselves and not the future of the conference, which is the same type of thinking that got the Big East into this mess.

It is obvious that Commissioner Marinatto is trying his hardest to keep his job, so he needs to act quickly -- a strategy he and the conference presidents should have put in place months and months ago. Meanwhile, the bigger, already-existing Big East programs -- Louisville, UConn, Cincinnati -- are just waiting for the word to join another conference (because they already know this league is doomed), while the six new invitees are just using the Big East (much like TCU was going to do) for its BCS money -- which hopefully won't get stripped away if they are added.

This strategy may work for a year or two, but in the end i'ts going to backfire on the Big East. In this Darwinism-like atmosphere, the Big East thinks it's the big fish in the pond, but it's not. It's just the host that the rest of the parasites are feeding from.

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