Take Me Home, Country Roads: The Latest Conference Realignment FAQ

With West Virginia finally getting invited to the Big 12 after some political haggling, we are one step closer to the settling the composition of all six BCS automatic qualifier conferences for a few years.  This has brought up a whole slew of questions from Slant readers, which I’ll address here:

1.  Is Missouri really leaving for the SEC? – I’m not sure why this keeps getting asked between the accidental “we f**ked up” web posting on the SEC website announcing the addition of Mizzou and the conspicuous absence of any mention of the Tigers in the Big 12’s press release regarding West Virginia, but there are still constant lingering questions about whether the Columbia-based school is going to stay in the Big 12 or receive a last-second Big Ten invite.  As I’ve stated previously, the SEC has turned the normal expansion process for most conferences on its head by making its candidates go through a public kabuki dance, which elongates the time frame for getting a deal completed.  Make no mistake about it: Missouri is heading to the SEC.  It would be the dumbest conference choice in college sports history if Mizzou were to stay in the Big 12.

2.  What did the Big 12 see in West Virginia over Louisville? – For quite awhile, I thought Louisville was the top non-BYU expansion choice for the Big 12.  My impression is that most of the Big 12 presidents agreed with me from a cultural fit standpoint (along with slightly better geography), which is why so much of the chatter over the past month seemed to be centered on the Cardinals.  However, let’s not forget that there’s one big-time reason why the Big 12 is still alive and kicking today: Fox and ESPN have decided to pay the same amount for a 10-school conference without a championship game as it would have for a 12-school conference with a championship game.  Without those TV deals, the Big 12 would have been executed last summer.  As a result, the Big 12 had to listen to its TV partners or else risk getting a reduction in its rights fees.  When the media people came down strongly in favor of West Virginia, that was enough to get most of the Big 12 presidents to change their tune.

Despite the geographic issues, I see where the TV networks are coming from.  If you’re Average Joe Sports Fan in Any Town, USA, West Virginia versus Texas or Oklahoma is probably going to be a much more attractive TV matchup in an average season than Louisville versus those same schools.  (If you need a reminder, we’re solely talking football here.  Basketball is, unfortunately for this hoops fan, pretty much irrelevant.)  The irony is that the main knock against West Virginia as an expansion candidate for various leagues was its tiny home TV market, yet the school ended up getting into the Big 12 because of the TV networks wanted the Mountaineers.

3.  Is the Big 12 really going to stay at 10? – As long as the Big 12 is unable to get a deal done with BYU, I see the conference staying at 10.  While Louisville has solid athletic assets, it’s simply not a single expansion candidate school that the Big 12 would be willing to go up to 11 for and then split the league’s TV money different ways.  The Big Ten stayed at 11 for many years, but that was because (a) Penn State was school #11 and (b) they had always been waiting for a legit football king (initially Notre Dame and eventually Nebraska) as school #12.  The schools involved for the Big Ten were more than worth going up to an uneven numbered alignment and waiting for in such alignment.  That’s not quite the case for the Big 12.  At the same time, schools like Cincinnati won’t really provide enough revenue to be taken instead of BYU in a 12-school alignment.  Now, I still have a hard time believing that BYU won’t end up in the Big 12 at some point.  If/when that happens, I’d fully expect Louisville to make the move to the Big 12, too.

4.  Would Notre Dame join the Big 12 as a non-football member? – I think the Irish will stay in a wounded Big East (more on that later), but I’d give it a 30% chance of them heading to the Big 12 for non-football sports, with approximately a 0% chance of joining the ACC or Big Ten for all-sports.  It doesn’t matter that the geographic and institutional fit would be horrendous for Notre Dame in the Big 12.  As long as the Irish have a strong non-football option that allows them to maintain independence, they will ALWAYS choose such option.  It might not be rational to anyone that isn’t a Domer, but independence in and of itself will always be the top priority for that school.  Now, I can’t see any reason why Notre Dame would agree to play 6 Big 12 opponents per year (as Chip Brown of Orangebloods reported), as that just sounds like the opening bargaining position of Chuck Neimas/DeLoss Dodds.  The Irish playing 3 Big 12 opponents annually (2 of which are Texas and Oklahoma), though, is certainly doable if that’s what it takes to preserve independence overall.  The overarching point: Notre Dame going to the Big 12 for non-football sports is NOT crazy.

(To be sure, all of the Notre Dame-to-the-Big 12 reports so far have originated from Texas.  This is important because I find it hard to believe that any Big 12 member outside of Texas would grant Notre Dame partial membership when it would provide the Longhorns a direct precedent to do the exact same thing in a few years.  The Texas “commitment” to the Big 12 is what’s keeping the league from splitting apart, so it would be a disaster to watch them use Notre Dame as leverage to get their own independence in football/member in non-football sports deal.  If I were running any Big 12 school that wasn’t located in Austin, I would stay far away from granting Notre Dame a partial membership.  That’s just me, though.)

5.  Why don’t the other AQ conferences just kill the Big East? – This is near the top of frequently asked questions during this conference realignment cycle.  Putting aside the potential litigation issues, there’s a pretty basic and easy answer to this: the other AQ conferences don’t want the remaining Big East schools alone.  Maybe those schools would be fine as complementary pieces (Rutgers or UConn heading to the Big Ten or ACC in conjunction with Notre Dame or the aforementioned Louisville and BYU to the Big 12 scenario), but not as sole additions.  While the other AQ conferences might be annoyed that the Big East has AQ status, they aren’t going to take other Big East schools simply as a mechanism to get rid of that league.  It’s a whole lot cheaper for the AQ conferences to allow the Big East to keep its AQ status than to expand with schools that don’t bring in enough revenue.

6.  Will the Big East football schools finally split from the Catholic schools? – I’ll point back to my comparison of the Big East to Netflix and Qwikster as to why I don’t believe the Big East will split.  If anything, the defections of Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia make the Big East’s basketball TV and NCAA Tournament credit revenue even more important for the remaining schools.  Also, don’t disregard the Notre Dame factor.  The Irish hold a ton of sway with both the football and Catholic sides of the Big East – the former because Notre Dame alone can prevent further expansion by the Big Ten and ACC (which in turn protects the Big East from further raids) and the latter as a result of all major Catholic institutions wanting a direct link with the South Bend school.  The Big 12 non-football option mentioned earlier is definitely a viable one for Notre Dame, yet when it comes to having a presence in the markets the Domers actually care about and live in (New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, New England), the Big East still fits them best.  It’s just that a split Catholic-only league wouldn’t provide a strong enough non-football home for Notre Dame’s sports outside of men’s basketball.  So, the Irish are going to do everything that they can to keep the Big East hybrid together.  If I’m wrong and the Big East splits, I’d expect that Notre Dame will take up the Big 12 on a partial membership offer if it exists.

7.  Why wouldn’t Boise State stay in the Mountain West Conference/Conference USA Alliance instead of joining the Big East? Won’t the Big East lose its AQ status, meaning that Boise State would be taking a huge gamble? – I keep seeing comments that the Big East is unstable.  This is obviously very true.  However, every single conference besides the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 and maybe the ACC could be considered to be completely unstable.  The one thing that the Big East has is AQ status in-hand.  This fact cannot be emphasized enough and provides the conference with a ton more leverage than many fans give it credit for.  It would be one thing if the Alliance were some type of bastion of stability itself with some type of assurance of AQ status in the future.  However, doesn’t anyone remember what happened to the Mountain West within weeks of Boise State joining that league?  It lost its three most valuable members: Utah, BYU and TCU.  So, how the heck is the Mountain West stable?  On the C-USA side of the Alliance, are Houston, SMU and UCF going turn down Big East invites?  Their departures would deplete the depth of the Alliance even further.  At the same time, there isn’t a single non-AQ school besides Boise State that has the recent resume of current Big East member Cincinnati (which finished #3 in the final BCS rankings in 2009).  The Bearcats alone give more numerical credence to the Big East retaining its AQ status in the future than any amalgamation of the MWC/C-USA Alliance.

At the same time, we saw Senator Mitch McConnell get involved last week with Louisville’s talks with the Big 12, so how likely are the other AQ conferences going to be willing to strip away the Big East’s AQ status with at least one powerful Louisville backer along with 2 service academies?  I just don’t see the Big Ten, SEC and others risking killing their control over the college football world by inviting a political firestorm just to get back one BCS bowl bid per year.  Dealing with the Big East is the political cost of doing business for the power conferences.

Everyone knows the saying that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.  Well, for any potential Alliance member (including Boise State), there isn’t even one bird in the bush to worry about.  The only chance that they have for long-term AQ status is to be in a rebuilt Big East that effectively annexes the top non-AQ schools and leaves behind the deadweight that have been dragging down the BCS criteria numbers for MWC and C-USA.  For those that think that Boise State has a lot of leverage, remember that this was a top 10 school last season that because of a single loss, ended up at the Las Vegas Bowl instead of a BCS game.  Even the most powerful programs go through down periods (see Notre Dame), so it would behoove Boise State to avoid becoming the football version of UNLV basketball (which was a 1990s powerhouse that quickly receded back into the midmajor masses as soon as it started losing more games).  Boise State and others might publicly posture over the coming days and weeks to make it seem like they have lots of options (similar to Missouri and the SEC or the Big 12 insisting that they were considering going up to an 11-school alignment), but ultimately, the only real choice is to take AQ status now because you never know when it might come around again.

(Even without the AQ status, the TV contract for a proposed rebuilt Big East that adds Boise State, Air Force, Navy, SMU, Houston and Central Florida is going to be significantly better on a per-school basis than whatever the Alliance could come up with.  So, there’s a financial incentive beyond AQ status to think about, too.)

8.  How is this all going to turn out? – Personally, I think “less is more”.  There has been and will continue to be a lot of school movement by historical standards, but not in a way where there’s an Armageddon scenario of 16-school superconferences forming.  Barring a choice by Notre Dame to give up independence, the Big Ten and ACC are settled.  The Pac-12 appears to have made Texas their equivalent of Notre Dame to the Big Ten and ACC, where no further expansion is happening for them without the Longhorns involved.  Once the anticipated move of Missouri going to the SEC is finalized, the SEC and Big 12 are going to be done with membership changes for the time being.

This means the action is going to be in the Big East.  As a form of AQ status triage, I actually like the Big East’s proposed plan of adding Houston, SMU and UCF as all-sports members along with Boise State, Air Force and Navy as football-only schools.  My guess is that Temple will be considered as a football-only member to replace West Virginia and get the Big East a football presence in Pennsylvania again, which would provide the Big East with 8 football members, 8 non-football members and 4 football-only members.  The MWC/C-USA Alliance may actually end up being a single all-sports league when all is said and done after any defections to the Big East.

As pretty much everyone knowledgeable about conference realignment likes to say, the situation is still fluid.  We just need Missouri and the SEC to get things going.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

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West Virginia Reportedly Invited to Big 12: Open Thread

Several news sources, including the New York Times and Charleston Daily Mail, are reporting that West Virginia will leave the Big East for the Big 12 as a replacement for Missouri (who is expected to head to the SEC sooner rather than later).  It appears that the Big 12 will stay at 10 for now.  I personally think the Big East can still rebuild into an AQ conference as long as the remaining 5 football members stay and without having to resort to a 32-team Rebel Alliance League.  West Virginia leaving alone also doesn’t seem to be enough to spur Notre Dame to look for a different conference home, either.  (I think Louisville leaving would’ve been worse from the Domer perspective.)  I’ll have more thoughts later, but you can use this post as a new open thread to discuss the latest news.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

Will Missouri End Realignment Rumor Misery?

If we all took some truth serum, most of us would have to admit to at least one trashy guilty pleasure TV show without any redeeming social value.  Some people enjoy Jersey Shore.  Others watch some variation of the Real Housewives.  The truly prurient are avid viewers of the Oakland Raiders.  My favorite trashy TV choice: Cheaters.

The premise of Cheaters is fairly elegant: a girlfriend/wife that is not quite sure of the fidelity of her boyfriend/husband has the Cheaters private detective squad led by host Joey Greco follow the suspect around with hidden cameras.  In 100% of the cases, the boyfriend/husband is caught in the act of cheating and a highlight videotape is then shown to the girlfriend/wife.  By sheer coincidence in 100% of the cases, the boyfriend/husband happens to be with the temptress at that very moment, which provides the opportunity to the spurned girlfriend/wife to have what it is literally titled in the last segment of every show, “The Confrontation”.  Gloriously, The Confrontation almost always occurs in a public place with the girlfriend/wife dumping the cheating bastard in front of about 150 people (plus 40 cameras), typically after verbally and physically beating down the boyfriend/husband and the temptress.  In a way, it’s the ultimate form of reality TV justice.  Cheaters provides such a high level of quality trash that it’s a constant source of inspiration for Maury Povich, who is essentially the Yoda of Trash TV.

This got me thinking about Missouri and the SEC.  (We could go a whole lot of ways with that one, no?)  Last year, when the Big Ten was going through its expansion evaluation process, Tom Osborne talked about how Jim Delany had him fly to secret locations in order to avoid any press.  Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has openly complained about people tracking the private jets that he uses via FlightAware, as that could tip off the public about schools he was meeting with.  Last month, a story broke on a random Friday night out of the blue that the ACC was looking to invite Syracuse and Pitt and a press conference confirming the invitations was held less than 48 hours later.  Even with all of the rumors surrounding who the Big 12 would invite over the past few weeks, it has kept and continues to keep its true intentions muddled, with the TCU invite coming quickly and it still being unclear how the conference is going to proceed.  Much like mergers and acquisitions in the business world, the major conferences have tried to keep their expansion plans in a shroud of secrecy and misdirection, which has fueled a cottage industry of blogs like this one along with providing reams of message board speculation.

The SEC, though, doesn’t play that way.  Clandestine expansion operations?  Pfffffft.  Oh sure, Mike Slive will continuously issue official statements that “The SEC is happy right now and it isn’t inviting any school that’s already a member of another conference.”  Of course, that SEC position means that it fully expects and requires any school that wants to join the league to publicly break up with its current conference just like in The Confrontation in Cheaters before applying.  This seems to more than just a legal technicality.  For all of the CYA tactics that Slive and the SEC presidents used prior to admitting Texas A&M, I honestly think that they get a kick out of public institutions openly going through a divorce with their current leagues.  As a result, we have a fairly unprecedented situation where two different schools (Texas A&M and now Missouri) have gone through extremely long, public and acrimonious processes just to get to the point of applying to the SEC.  I can’t really tell you whether this is really the right or wrong approach compared to the Big Ten’s Operation Purple Book Cat, but one thing should be clear: the SEC doesn’t do any super secret invites.  Thus, forget about the thought that the SEC might be targeting West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Florida State and/or Clemson.  It’s all about Missouri right now.

This prolonged period between Missouri announcing that it’s “exploring conference options” and what ought to be a withdrawal from the Big 12 this week has created a whole lot of activity and rumors regarding other schools … but absolutely everything has to be written in pencil.  The Mountain West Conference and Conference USA have announced a 22-school alliance/merger/clambake (AKA Mount USA), yet it’s not quite clear whether the largest names in that proposed league, such as Boise State and Air Force, are even going to stick around in Mount USA since they’ve been rumored to be heading to the Big East.  In turn, the Big East seems to have a goal of a 12-school alignment with the additions of UCF, Houston and SMU as all-sports members and Navy, Boise State and Air Force as all-sports members, but it can’t be finalized without exit fees that are contingent upon at least Navy and Air Force joining, and who knows whether those two would join if a school like Louisville heads to the Big 12.  Lurking in the background, don’t forget about BYU and its own Big 12 prospects.  A number of reports earlier this month seemed to intimate that BYU and the Big 12 couldn’t come to an agreement (or maybe more appropriately, BYU and the Big 12’s TV partners regarding BYUtv), yet the school’s athletic director took pains this past weekend to state that no invite was turned down and kept everything as open ended as possible.  (I’ll reiterate that I believe BYU-to-the-Big 12 will eventually get done.  It makes too much sense.)

A couple of things to note:

(1) The issue with the AQ status of the Mountain West has never been about the strength of its champion and the next top team or two.  Instead, the league has always gotten killed on criteria that deal with depth, as its lower two-thirds have generally been abominable.  I fail to see how the Mount USA merger with C-USA addresses that issue and, in fact, could very well make it worse even if schools like Boise State stay, which gets to the next point…

(2) If there’s been one constant in conference realignment, it’s been that whenever a weaker conference starts thinking that it can attack a wounded stronger conference, that stronger conference slaps the weaker conference back to the stone age.  It’s hard to remember now, but there was about a week in Summer 2010 when the WAC was actually thinking that it could raid the MWC after BYU declared its independence.  MWC commissioner Craig Thompson then proceeded to go off on the WAC like Sonny Corleone on Carlo Rizzi by essentially grabbing everyone except for poor Utah State.  A lot of Big East fans back in August were having thoughts of absorbing a number of Big 12 schools such as Kansas or even raiding the ACC with the promise of a new lucrative TV deal.  That led to the ACC taking two old line Big East members and the Big 12 grabbing didn’t-even-get-a-chance-to-play-in-the-Big-East member TCU while continuing to swarm like a vulture.  We now see the Big East will always be in the position of raidee instead of the raider compared to the other AQ conferences.

Even with all of those losses (and possibly more to come), the Big East still has guaranteed AQ status until at least 2013 (and by other reports, until 2015), which means that Mount USA ultimately isn’t going to fend off a Big East raid, either.  Maybe the service academies would decline the Big East since they are institutions that are in a different realm than anyone else, but all of the others, including Boise State, know that this is their only chance to jump into the “haves” category of college football.  A 10 or 12-school Big East with a guaranteed AQ bid versus a 22-school Mount USA that doesn’t have any guarantee of an AQ bid whatsoever really isn’t a very difficult choice.  While there seems to be a lot of Big East haters out in the college football world these days, rationally speaking, there’s no reason why even a Big East that’s down to 2 members left still isn’t more desirable than the Mount USA simply because there’s AQ status at stake.  There will always be more leverage for a league to retain its AQ status than a newly formed league to attain it, especially in a BCS system that stacks the deck against upstarts.

So, there’s an avalanche of moves on the precipice of occurring, but they’re all waiting on The Confrontation scene between Missouri and the Big 12.  The SEC still only wants single schools to apply.

UPDATE (10/17, 11:50 pm): Big East is reportedly inviting Houston.  This dovetails with a scheduled Big East conference call to discuss realignment on Tuesday, so we also might see invites provided to SMU, UCF, Boise State, Navy and Air Force.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

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No Split for You! Netflix, Qwikster and the Big East

There’s a general assumption by much of the public that the dominant force of home entertainment in the future will be video streaming.  Whether it’s viewing TV shows via the Internet instead of cable or picking out movies for the evening, streaming enables immediate access to content with video quality that is continuously improving.  Thus, many investors earlier this year were pushing Netflix to move away from its cash cow DVD plan business and instead emphasize its streaming service.  In fact, a popular view on Wall Street seemed to be that Netflix’s largest problem was that too many people were still using the DVD-by-mail service that had made the company so dominant in the first place.  So, the opening salvo was when Netflix separated its DVD and streaming plans with higher prices (with the intended effect being that subscribers would choose dropping the DVD plan).  That move was about as popular as Santa Claus at an Eagles game.  Still, Netflix pressed on by subsequently announcing that it would completely split off its DVD business into a separate company called Qwikster, which would force customers to create different accounts for each service.  The public immediately vomited all over this plan and the investors that were pushing Netflix to go full bore into streaming started crushing the company’s stock price.  Finally, Netflix ended up issuing a mea culpa yesterday and reversed its decision to split the two sides of the business.  A firm that had built one of the most loyal customer bases through word-of-mouth over the past decade effectively wiped out all of its goodwill reserves within a couple of months.

The problem with Netflix is that even though it pushed streaming as the future, its streaming content isn’t satisfactory in the present.  There’s only a fraction of the number of movies and TV shows available on the streaming service compared to the regular DVD-by-mail, particularly new releases.  As a result, consumers that once saw Netflix as a good deal started thinking that it wasn’t providing great value any longer.  At the same time, Netflix customers (including me) have generally been perplexed as to why improvements in streaming and the use of DVDs need to be mutually exclusive.  (To be sure, my 2-year twins use the Netflix app on our iPad all of the time to stream Sesame Street and the abominable Spanglish of Dora the Exploer, so there’s certainly a convenience factor for me personally.  It’s also a testament to the late Steve Jobs that he created such intuitive products that my kids were able to figure out how to use our iPad and iPhones by the time they were about 16 months old.)  Netflix gave the public a message that the DVD service was holding the streaming service back, but the reality is that one has little to do with the other.  Instead, Netflix’s issue is that the streaming content still needs a ton of improvements regardless of the state of the DVD business and, more importantly, the service faces paying skyrocketing streaming rights fees to and direct competition from the movie and TV studios themselves (such as Hulu).

The Big East is the Netflix of the college sports world.  It has a product (basketball) that completely built the conference and is still regarded across the nation as high quality.  However, the conference knows that its weaker product (football) is the revenue driver of the future.  The problem is that improving the football product isn’t that simple and really has little to do with basketball.  A lot of Big East football fans would tell you that the basketball side of the conference has been holding the football side back and that’s the reason why schools like Syracuse and Pitt ended up leaving for the ACC.  Therefore, the argument goes, the Big East would be served best by the football members splitting from the rest of the conference.  However, this is a straw man argument similar to Netflix claiming that it needed to get rid of its DVD business in order to build its streaming business.  Just because the Big East was excellent in basketball didn’t mean it caused any type of problem for its football league.  If anything, the only reason why Big East football gets any ESPN coverage at all is its ties to the basketball side.  The Big East’s football problems have been with the performance of its football programs themselves and a lack of a national brand name ever since Miami left for the ACC in 2003.  In fact, the Big East football league was born with two left feet since it never had the one school that really mattered on the East Coast: Penn State.

Ultimately, the Big East’s presidents know this, which is why they haven’t been exactly quick to add on new football schools willy-nilly even with its league under attack and aren’t even considering a split from the Catholic members.  With the Big East basketball TV contract already larger than the football TV contract (both in total amounts and on a per school basis), keeping the top basketball brand names and large markets is now more important for the whoever remains in the conference than ever (even if a lot of Big East football fans are now even more vehement in pushing for a split).

Switching to the Big 12 expansion drama for a moment (as it has a great impact on what the Big East will end up doing), I won’t believe that BYU isn’t joining the Big 12 until that league expands to 12 schools again without them.  Put me in the tin foil hat category of thinking that the reason why BYU has supposedly “fallen off the Big 12 list” according to a number of reports is that DeLoss Dodds and company is trying to put public pressure on the Provo school by getting their alums all riled up.  It appears the major sticking points are TV rights issues with BYUtv, which believe it or not actually receives more rights to broadcasts and rebroadcasts than the Longhorn Network.  However, this all seems to be resolvable by both parties.  If BYU turns down a Big 12 invite because of reruns of football games, then the LDS leaders are on LSD.  BYU makes complete sense as school #10 in the Big 12 if and when Missouri leaves for the SEC.

Therefore, let’s assume for the moment that the Big East retains all of its remaining 6 football members, including but not limited to Louisville and West Virginia.  With the news that the Big East now wants to go up to 12 football schools (although I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it stayed at 10), it obviously begs the question about who the league should add.  These seem to be the main tiers of candidates that the Big East is looking at:

(1) Service Academies (Navy, Air Force, Army) – By all accounts, Navy, Air Force and Army are the top priorities for the Big East as football members.  As I’ve mentioned previously, adding these schools would be a smart move because I believe that none of the other AQ conferences are going to remove AQ status from a league that has all 3 service academies (or even just two of them).  The academies have great brand names, traveling fan bases and political protection.  Of course, that’s also why they’re going to be hard to get and it’s not a guarantee that the Big East can add any of them.

(2) Classic BCS Buster (Boise State) – It warms my heart that my Big Country Conference dream of a football-only league combining the Big East with the top non-AQ schools from the west is starting to seem plausible with the Providence crowd looking to add Boise State.  (The schools in that original Big Country Conference post will need to change, but the concept remains the same.)  Boise State is in a bind since the Pac-12 will never accept it due to academic and cultural reasons while the Big 12 doesn’t seem to be seriously interested, either.  Meanwhile, the Big East is seeking to strengthen its AQ credentials as much as possible (even though I personally don’t believe the league’s bid is truly in danger of being taken away after 2013, which is when the current BCS cycle concludes).  Thus, the only BCS option for Boise State appears to be the Big East and the Big East’s best option to add some national cache seems to be Boise State, which looks like a horrific geographic fit on paper but really isn’t that bad if it’s a football-only membership.  Football really isn’t the killer on travel costs since it’s only a handful of trips every year – it’s the non-football schools that bear the brunt of travel issues.  Let’s say that the Big East adds Air Force as a football-only member and a couple of Texas-based schools (which will be discussed in a moment) to create a western division.  That cuts down the geographic concerns of Boise State a bit further for football and the school could look to place its other sports in the WCC or WAC.  Karl Benson, the WAC commissioner, has already stated that he’d be open to discussing a non-football arrangement for the former full member Broncos.  This seems like a long-shot for the Big East, but Boise State would be the one potential addition that would truly move the needle nationally, so John Marinatto needs to try it.

(3) Inside the Footprint (Central Florida, Temple) – Most conferences are looking for new markets when considering expansion candidates.  However, the Big East is a bit different because it’s never had an issue with markets themselves, but rather the lack of the ability to deliver such markets.  Therefore, the Big East doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) have the same issues with potentially “double dipping” in many of its home markets since the conference may need to do so in order to even hope to deliver them.  Enter UCF and Temple, which by a number of accounts appear to be the two most likely and immediate all-sports additions to the Big East as the interest seems to be reciprocal between the schools and the league.

In the case of UCF, it’s a massive school in a football recruiting stronghold that would prevent South Florida from being a complete geographic outlier in the conference.  Personally, I see UCF’s ceiling as basically being another version of USF.  I’ll always be skeptical that either of those schools can breakthrough in one of the most competitive college football fan markets in the country with the presence of Florida and Florida State casting overwhelming shadows along with Miami (who I believe a lot of conference realignment observers seem to be mistakenly underrating in terms of long-term staying power) not too far away.  However, the Big East is going to have a tough time to find any school that’s going to be considered #1 or even #2 in any market of substantial size, anyway, so doubling down on the Florida market is a fairly reasonable approach.

For Temple, it’s a matter of location, location, location.  The Philadelphia market is obviously an attraction on paper and, maybe more importantly, it’s virtually impossible to position yourself as a Northeastern football conference without at least some presence in the state of Pennsylvania (which has gone out the door with Pitt to the ACC for the time being).  Temple has made a ton of strides with the financial support of its football program since it was ousted as a football-only member of the Big East several years ago and has a lot of basketball tradition.  At the same time, the objections that Villanova have had (and may still have) to Temple entering as an all-sports member are likely going to go be the wayside (or at least ignored by the other Big East members) when the very survival of the conference itself is in jeopardy.  I’m someone that really respects Villanova as an institution (great academics with a marquee basketball program), but the school has had chances to jump up to AQ status for football that around 60 other football programs would KILL for yet they’ve never grabbed the proverbial bull by horns.  It has always seemed that Villanova considering a move up from Division I-AA status to Division I-A was simply about protecting its basketball program as opposed to actually investing in football, so now the school is going to have to live with the long-term consequences of its slow actions by probably having to let in (or maybe more appropriately, be forced to live with) a direct competitor for all sports in its own backyard.

(4) Yellow Roses of the Big East (SMU, Houston) – If Boise State and/or Army don’t end up joining the Big East as football-only members, then I expect SMU and Houston to be next on the list as potential all-sports candidates.  I’ve really been warming up to SMU lately despite its taint of Craig James, as it’s a great academic school in a top-tier market.  If the Big East basically believes all of the C-USA candidates are effectively on the same tier of quality (and I think that’s essentially what the league is thinking), then SMU starts looking pretty attractive as an overall institution.  As a school, there are a lot of similarities there to the former Big East member that never played a Big East game TCU (albeit not with the same recent football success).  Houston doesn’t bring in great academics (which is a mark against them), but fits the urban profile of the rest of the Big East as a similar school as Louisville, Cincinnati, USF and potential member USF along with bringing in another large market and recruiting territory.  It also helps that Houston has been fairly competent on the football field lately and can point to excellent tradition in basketball.

(5) So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance (East Carolina, Memphis) – Speaking to a lot of Big East football fans, it seems that East Carolina is a common “people’s choice” as an expansion candidate.  It makes sense on some levels as it’s a program that has fairly strong attendance and fan support for a non-AQ school as well as being unequivocal in its desire to join the Big East.  However, I get the impression that the Big East looks at East Carolina in the same manner that the SEC looks at West Virginia: despite a geographic fit and solid fan base, those factors aren’t enough to overcome what’s perceived to be a small market (unlike a national name like Nebraska or Boise State).  East Carolina is arguably the best pure football school on paper out of the Big East candidates besides Boise State, but the Pirates aren’t so far ahead of the other C-USA candidates that the Providence crowd would choose them over schools located in better markets or have stronger academics.

Meanwhile, there might not be a school in the country that has had worse timing in terms of going through its ugliest stretch of football performance (or non-performance) in its history than Memphis.  If the Memphis football program had ANY type of pulse, it would be near the top of the list of Big East expansion candidates with its strong basketball fan support (which could conceivably bleed over to football), FedEx corporate ties, a Liberty Bowl tie-in and traditional rivalries with Louisville and Cincinnati.  Instead, the Tigers are almost certainly going to be relegated to non-AQ status for quite awhile.

Call me crazy, but put me in the camp as someone that believes that the Big East will continue to survive as an AQ conference in some shape or form.  Notre Dame certainly wants the league to live (although not enough to actually join the Big East as a football member) and the other AQ conferences aren’t really that hot to either destroy the Big East completely or kick it out of the AQ club.  Continuing to grant a BCS bowl bid to the Big East champ is chump change to the rest of the AQ conferences compared to the political heat that could result from throwing out a league that has any service academies and large flagship universities in the Northeast.  It’s imperative to the Big Ten, SEC and other AQ conferences that the BCS system itself is preserved, which likely means that they need to keep the Big East in the fold.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

(Image from moviefone)

TCU Invited to the Big 12: Open Thread

According to Brett McMurphy of CBS Sports (and now corroborated by numerous other reports), TCU has been invited to the Big 12.  There’s also speculation that there will be another announcement from the Big 12 today.  My guess is that it would have to do with also adding BYU or maybe DeLoss Dodds has hoodwinked Missouri into staying.  I’ll have more thoughts later, but you can use this post as a new open thread to discuss the latest news.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)