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On college football

Next Big East splash could have ripple effect

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / October 26, 2011

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The 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 clerical process in the next several days - although, 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 the moves go through, the infrastructure of the Big East, Big 12, and SEC will change, but the ramifications could be felt in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big Ten, and even at Notre Dame.

According to sources in the Big East, the non-football schools in the conference may now take a serious look at breaking away completely - something they have contemplated for several years. With the loss of basketball bluebloods Pittsburgh and Syracuse (to the ACC) and now West Virginia - and perhaps Louisville in the not-too-distant future - the Big East’s core of Catholic, non-football schools has reached the point where enough is enough.

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

Big East commissioner John Marinatto has talked with the potential invitees - Central Florida, Boise State, Navy, Southern Methodist, Houston, and Air Force - over the past few weeks. With West Virginia leaving, the Big East will need another team, and the favorite appears to be Temple, which was on the original list but didn’t make the first cut. East Carolina is another possibility.

The timing also is 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 it can wait for Syracuse and Pittsburgh. The Big 12 has made it clear that it wants to be at least at the 10-team level next season. The conference will lose Texas A&M to the SEC next year, with TCU set to join. If Missouri leaves next year, the Big 12 will be back down to nine.

Adding West Virginia would 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, with TCU as the 10th, then see if a deal could be worked out to allow West Virginia to join in 2013.

Notre Dame officials are 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. 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 object 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 Notre Dame has with NBC, which runs through the 2015 season and pays the Irish $15 million-$16 million per year. Preliminary talks of extending that pact have begun. Notre Dame officials also are talking to the ACC about allowing them to maintain their contract for home football games with NBC and still join the ACC in all the other sports.

If ACC officials bend on that issue, Notre Dame could seriously consider giving up its independent status in football. If Notre Dame does join, the ACC would then need a 16th school. Connecticut would be the probable leader in the clubhouse. That would advance the ACC’s quest of becoming 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. It could take a close look at ACC schools such as Maryland and Georgia Tech; that appears unlikely now, but things 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 the alignment of things.

The key issue right now is the configuration of the conferences for next season.

And unless there are some major deals in the next few 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), the Pac-12 will have 12 teams, and the SEC will add Texas A&M and stick, for at least a year, to 13 teams.

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

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.