Week 6 of the 2011-12 Big East Conference football season featured two of its four games being decided by seven points or less and an upset that not many saw coming. However, as Week 7 begins the water-cooler talk has nothing to do with what is happening on the field, but a Monday announcement by the Big East that says (in an effort to save itself) the league is exploring options to expanded to 12 football-playing programs.
The press release came after a Monday morning teleconference between Big East presidents, chancellors and Commissioner John Marinatto, and amidst reports that Texas Christian University is joining the Big 12 Conference, not the Big East, in 2012.
When TCU announces its move to the Big 12 at 7 p.m., Monday, the Big East will be left with just six football-playing members -- last month, the University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University announced that each were accepting invitations to the Atlantic Coast Conference. However, not only does the Big East need to expand so it can hold onto its Bowl Championship Series automatic qualifying status, but it must convince its already existing members that everything is okay and the league will survive the loss of these programs -- West Virginia University and the University of Louisville are rumored to be heading to the Big 12 if the University of Missouri decides to move to another conference.
"(If WVU and Louisville move) then the conference could be looking to add as many as eight new members," writes Mark Ennis of SB Nation's Big East Coast Bias. "That would be a massive overhaul of the Big East and its hard to imagine how it could be done without harming the basketball side."
As of Monday, Army, Navy and Air Force are three programs that are on the Big East-expansion list. However, if those three programs are added it may be only be as football-playing members -- Air Force admitted Saturday it would play in the Missouri Valley Conference in other sports. Meanwhile, schools like East Carolina University, Temple University and the University of Central Florida are desperately wanting to join the Big East in all sports.
"The Bylaw Blog tweeted last night that the Big East has to have eight full members playing eight women's and six men's sports within the Big East in order to compete in FBS football," wrote Ken DeCelles of SB Nation's University of South Florida blog VooDoo Five Monday morning. "This will give schools like Temple, ECU, and UCF (or even Villanova!) a chance to grab at least two of the six spots."
However, there are still a lot of question on whether or not this 12-team, football-schools, non-football schools model will keep the Big East alive.
"While some say that the Big East's problem is that the basketball-only schools have undue influence over the revenue-driving football programs," wrote SB Nation's blog Rumble In The Garden Monday, "there is obviously a strong push to save the league in its current model. Whether the Big East has moved FAST enough is more up for debate."
"Each of these official actions spell out the way the Big East is going to try and survive. Unfortunately (perhaps), the plan is to keep the tenuous model of all-sports teams, partial sports teams, and deep-seeded acrimony."
It's obvious that the Big East is in survival mode and will basically look at any school that can help the conference keep its Football Bowl Subdivision and BCS status. For Big East basketball fans -- mainly Georgetown University and St. John's University -- this has to be frustrating because there's really no place else to go (the Atlantic 10 Conference isn't very appealing).
However, for the football-basketball members -- South Florida, West Virginia, Louisville, Rutgers University, and the University of Cincinnati -- its like choosing between going to the prom alone or with your sister: If you go alone, there's possibility for better options -- a new (conference) girlfriend, perhaps? -- but, if you go with your sister, you have a date, but your committed to an option that's going no place.
The only saving graces for the Big East are: A) Missouri decides to stay in the Big 12 (if not, WVU is long gone, and, maybe, so is Louisville); B) if it can miraculously convince Boise State University to join; and C) this all happens, then its commissioner somehow convinces television executives -- cough, ESPN, cough -- that its conference is a good investment.
Odds of all of these things happening? Slim. Very slim. And, sadly, for some reason, the Big East and its commissioner still think their league is fine and will survive this conference realignment mess -- heck, they're so confident they're adding!
Big East fans need to not listen to the propaganda from their presidents, chancellors and commissioner. If your program has the option -- like Syracuse or Pittsburgh -- get out and get out now. And, for those schools wanting inclusion, you're more than welcome to join, but the only thing making this conference somewhat relevant -- its BCS automatic bid -- is about to go bye, bye and, no, you're not the program that will save it. (I would argue that men's basketball was actually the only thing making the Big East relevant, but with the loss of Syracuse and Pitt --- two top-tier programs -- that is no longer the case.)
"(The Big East) will probably survive as a major conference through this current BCS cycle (through the 2014 bowls), wrote CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd on Monday. "After that, there is uncertainty. A BCS official told me Sunday that the Big East's membership going forward will essentially be decided by the major bowls and the networks that televise them.
Translation: For now, that's ESPN. Further translation: Don't count on the Big East being in the BCS after the 2013 season. It's debatable whether there will be enough marketable programs to draw enough eyes to TV sets"
The longer this issue hangs around, the more likely the Big East is going to crumble. And, that is why the Big East and its leaders are acting now. The problem is the "solution" is a bad one and is coming way too late.
Agree? Disagree? Contact Jared Smith at JaredSmith16@gmail.com or on Twitter at Jared_E_Smith.