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Big East's fate depends on Missouri

Posted by Mark Blaudschun, Globe Staff  October 12, 2011 04:23 PM

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A decision whether to leave the Big 12 and head to another conference -- presumably the Southeastern Conference -- by the University of Missouri is not only a key to the future of the Big 12, but Big East football conference and could also affect the Big Ten and the Atlantic Coast Conference.

After another round of meetings and conference calls by Big East officials and school administrators without a consensus on how to move forward with their expansion plans, sources in the Big East were pessimistic about the future of the football league, which was rocked by the departure of Syracuse and Pittsburgh last month.

Missouri's role is crucial because if the Tigers choose to stay in the Big 12, conference officials have indicated that their configuration might remain at 10 schools with the addition of TCU.

But if Missouri leaves -- and as of this morning the prevailing theory was that the Tigers were still focused on joining Texas A&M as the 13th and 14th members of the SEC -- the Big 12 would make a move to go from 9 to 12 teams with Big East members Louisville and West Virginia as the prime schools on their wish list. Such a move might also happen even if Missouri remains.
The SEC might have one back up plan if Missouri decides to stay. Word is spreading throug the SEC that Clemson may come into play as team No. 14.
The Tigers are more of an SEC fit than ACC fit in many ways. If that happens, the ACC will be forced to go for a 14th team. The first choice would be Notre Dame, but if the Irish still want to remain as an independent than UConn comes into the picture.
But the prevailing wisdom right now is that Missouri will likely be headed to the Big 12, which would set Louisville and West Virginia into motion.

With the uncertainty of the Big East future, both schools would make the move.

"Once that happens, all sorts of things happen, none of them good for the Big East,'' said one Big East source. "Without those two schools, the non-football (7 members) would say they had enough and break off on their own. Notre Dame would be forced to make a decision and probably head to the ACC, (which has openly said that any expansion beyond 14 teams would probably be predicated on Notre Dame being one of the teams). If Notre Dame goes, then UConn would be the 16th team on that list.''

Without Louisville, West Virginia or Louisville, the Big East would be reduced to three survivors--Rutgers, South Florida and Cincinnati. Of that group, Rutgers would have the best chance of hooking up with a BCS conference, with the Big 10 the most likely, if only realistic, possibility.

The Big Ten has studied the feasibility of moving further into the Northeast with Rutgers being the prime focus as an Eastern partner with Penn State.

All of this uncertainty, which has been dominated by arguments between the basketball and football factions of the Big East, has slowed the talk of expansion, if not stopped it.

At yesterday's meeting, potential candidates such as Boise State, Central Florida and Temple were discussed, but no consensus could be agreed upon which teams to invite first, or at all.

The basketball factions were adamant about not adding anyone, while the football faction argued that if the Big East is going to survive as a BCS conference, whose champion gained automatic entry to a BCS bowl it is imperative for Boise State, with its high national ranking was a necessity for survival.

This season is the last of a four year cycle of results which is used in determining whether conferences qualify for an automatic BCS bid. A new four year cycle will begin starting next season based on:

1.Average ranking of the highest ranked team
2.Average Conference ranking
3. Top 25 performance ranking (for all teams in the conference)

Starting with the 2008 season (which was the first season of the current cycle the Big East would seem to be in trouble. In 2008, only Cincinnati at No. 12 was in the Top 25 final BCS rankings. In 2009, Cincinnati (3) and West Virginia (16) and Pittsburgh (17) were ranked. In 2010, only West Virginia (22) is on the list. The first BCS rankings of the season are due to be released on Sunday, but using the Coaches poll as a reference for this season, only West Virginia (16) is ranked.

Conversely, Boise has a solid record of Top 10 finishes over the past three seasons, finishing 9th, 6th and 10th the last three seasons. The Broncos are ranked 7th this week.

The problem the Big East has simply of coming to an agreement on anything. Central Florida and Temple are poised to become new members, but had yet to receive the call simply because the basketball and football schools could not reach an understanding.

If there is a consensus about anything in the Big East is that no matter what happens, none of the schools who are leaving or contemplating leaving will be allowed to depart until the 27 month waiting period put in for defecting teams expires, which means that no Big East school could join their new conferences before the start of the 2014 season.

What also seems apparent, the future of the Big East football is very much in jeopardy and more likely to disappear than reconfigure into a healthy, productive league. What potential new members such as Boise State, Temple and UCF must determine is if the risk-reward ratio is worth it.

The Big East did take care of one piece of business, by hiring former UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway for fill a role in the basketball operations of the league. Such a move allows Hathaway, who is scheduled to be the chairman of the NCAA men's tournament selection committee this winter, to maintain his position as chair.

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