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Major shake up in conferences growing closer

Posted by Mark Blaudschun, Globe Staff  October 25, 2011 04:30 PM

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The anticipated moves of Missouri from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference and West Virginia from the Big East to the Big 12, should work their way through the legal and other clerical issues in the next several days. However, according to sources in the Big 12 and SEC, there might be more of an issue with Missouri being accepted in the SEC than West Virginia going to the Big 12.

Presuming that happens, the ramifications of such moves will again shake the infrastructure of not only the Big East, the Big 12 and the SEC, but perhaps even the ACC, the Big Ten and even Notre Dame.

According to sources in the Big East, the non-football playing schools in the conference may now take a serious look at their options of breaking completely away from the football section -- something that has been contemplated for the past several years. With the loss of basketball blue bloods, Pittsburgh and Syracuse (to the ACC) and now West Virginia (and perhaps in the not too distant future, Louisville), the Big East core of Catholic, non-football playing schools has reached the point where enough is enough.

For the survivors -- now down to five -- among the football playing Big East schools, the question is not only what the next move will be, but when it will happen.

Big East commissioner John Marinatto has talked with all of the potential invitees -- Central Florida, Boise State, Air Force, Southern Methodist University, Houston and Air Force over the past few weeks. With West Virginia leaving, the Big East will need a seventh team and the favorite appears to be Temple, which was on the original list of expansion teams but didn't make the first cut. East Carolina is another possibility.
If the Big East wanted to go to a more definitive East-West set up, it could make another run at BYU as part of the Western Division
BYU may have some choices since it could also be in the mix as the 10th team in the Big 12 since West Virginia will not be immediately available. In that scenario, BYU would come first and West Virginia and Louisville would join in two years.

The timing of all of this also remains problematic. The Big East has been adamant about holding each departing team to the 27-month exit time frame, which would put a hold on any defection until the 2014 season.

The ACC has already said that it could wait for Syracuse and Pittsburgh. The Big 12 has made it clear that it wants to be at least at the 10-team level starting next season. The conference absorbed the loss of Texas A&M to the SEC next year with TCU, which will join the Big 12 next season. If Missouri leaves next year, the Big 12 will be back down to 9 teams, which it would like to avoid.

Adding West Virginia would obviously resolve the issue, but that seems unlikely for next season.

A possible compromise might be to keep Missouri for one more season as the ninth team, along with TCU, and then see if a deal could be worked out which would allow West Virginia to join in 2013. Or if Missouri does leave next year, BYU could become involved.

While that was happening, Notre Dame officials were also looking at their options, examining scenarios in which Big East football would disappear or change enough to force the non-football schools to break off on their own. Notre Dame is affiliated with the Big East in all sports except hockey and football.

If circumstances suddenly left Irish officials looking for a home for their other sports, the ACC could come into the mix.

The ACC has already said that while it has no current plans to go beyond 14 schools, it would not be adverse to increasing to 16 if Notre Dame (in all sports) is part of the package.

The sticking point in that discussion is the lucrative television contract which Notre Dame has with NBC, which runs through the 2015 season and pays the Irish between $15 and $16 million dollars per year. Preliminary talks of extending that pact have begun, while Notre Dame officials are talking to the ACC about allowing Notre Dame to join the ACC as a football partner but maintain its contract for home games with NBC and still join the ACC in all the other sports.

If ACC officials bend sufficiently on that issue, Notre Dame could seriously consider giving up its independent status in football. If Notre Dame does agree, the ACC would then need a 16th school which would include the University of Connecticut as the probable leader in the clubhouse. Such a move would solidify the ACC's quest to become the best conference in college basketball.

If that happens, the Big Ten which has said it is very comfortable with 12 teams with the addition of Nebraska, could take one more look at expanding its television footprint while taking a close look at ACC schools such as Maryland and Georgia Tech. That appears unlikely now but could change if the landscape changes considerably again. Any move by Notre Dame toward conference affiliation in football would be regarded as a major earthquake in conference affiliations.

Before any of those moves are made, the key issue now is the configuration of the conferences next season.

And unless there are some major deals made in the next few days and weeks, it appears that the Big East will still be viable with at least eight teams in football, the ACC will have 12 teams, the Big 10 will have 12 teams ,the Big 12 will have 10 teams (with Missouri and TCU) and the Pac-12 will have 12 teams and the SEC will add Texas A&M and stick, for at least one year, to 13 teams.

All of that, of course, is subject to change.

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