In the latest (albeit expected) move in conference realignment, numerous reports state that Navy will announce on Tuesday that it is joining the Big East as a football-only member in 2015. This is a fairly historic move considering that Navy has had the longest run of uninterrupted independence of any Division I-A football program (123 years starting in 1879 according to the non-blacked out Wikipedia). It’s also quite a coup for the Big East as Navy arguably has more TV contract value than any non-AQ school outside of BYU.
Of course, 2015 might as well be 2115 in terms of conference realignment timing. The question is whether the landscape is truly settling or there’s one more large move (such as the Big 12 expanding with 2 more schools) that will cause more aftershocks. The Mountain West Conference and Conference USA have continued discussions about a merger where the ultimate benefit might be protecting themselves if/when the Big East takes any more of their members.
Indeed, my feeling is that the Big East will look to add another western football-only member to round out its football membership at 12 schools (assuming no other defections for now). That means that the Mountain West is vulnerable again to another defection. It’s hard to say who would be most valuable from those that are left in the MWC (or who will be joining the MWC from the WAC starting next season): UNLV, Fresno State, Nevada, Colorado State and… dare I say it… Hawaii all have some attractive points in a creating a Big East western division.
I doubt that the Big East will add any further all-sports members unless it’s to backfill any further defections of current all-sports schools. (The greatest flight risks, in my semi-educated opinion, are Louisville and Rutgers to the Big 12. I don’t buy further ACC expansion without Notre Dame for one second, and I don’t buy Notre Dame joining any conference for one second.) Therefore, schools like Memphis, Temple or my personal favorite of Tulane that make more sense as all-sports members as opposed to football-only members would likely get passed over in favor of further western expansion.
A key issue will be when the Big 12 and ABC/ESPN start renegotiating their TV contract. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds indicated last month that ABC/ESPN were ready “to talk early”. Chuck Neinas has been in this game before, so he knows that if the Big 12 truly wants to expand back to 12, it needs to do so prior to that time so that it can offer ABC/ESPN a conference championship game as part of the TV package. The moment that those parties actually start talking, though, the chances of a purposeful near-term Big 12 expansion* drop down precipitously.
(* Purposeful means expansion by proactive choice as opposed to a reaction to defections.)
If the Big East gets through that process unscathed, then 2015 won’t look so far away.