By The Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Big East is ready to start adding members after spending the last month and a half losing them.
A person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press the Big East will invite Boise State, Navy and Air Force for football only and SMU, Houston and Central Florida for all sports in upcoming days. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the conference was not ready to announce its plan.
Commissioner John Marinatto declined to elaborate on the Big East’s next moves after meeting with the league’s presidents at a Philadelphia hotel Tuesday. He said he expected the targeted schools to accept, but details still must be worked out with each.
“As we’ve learned over the last two months, don’t believe anything anybody tells you. Nothing’s done until it is over. So I’m obviously being very cautious and that’s why I’m reluctant to say names of schools,” he said.
Marinatto did acknowledge the league intends to expand west.
Boise State and Air Force, both in the Mountain West Conference, and SMU and Houston, members of Conference USA, would be in the Big East’s western division, along with Louisville and Cincinnati. Navy, an independent, and UCF, also from CUSA, would be part of the league’s eastern division with Connecticut, South Florida, Rutgers and another school. The league would then likely play a conference championship game.
The Big East has been working on a plan to add those six schools and reconfigure as a 12-team football conference since not long after Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced Sept. 18 they would be leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“We got reaffirmation from our members that that was the way we wanted to go,” he said. “It was probably a very small part of our meeting today, where they just reaffirmed everything we had been talking about and authorized me to move forward with formal discussions to get this all wrapped up as soon as possible.”
Exactly when was unclear.
“We have not received an invitation from the Big East. However, we understand the things are moving in that direction,” UCF spokesman Grant Heston said.
Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said Tuesday he had not yet heard from any Big East officials.
A couple weeks after the Big East found out about Pitt and Syracuse, TCU announced it was backing out of a commitment to join the league next year and instead accepted an invite to the Big 12.
Then last week West Virginia accepted an invitation to the Big 12, stripping the Big East of its most successful football member in recent years. So even with the six potential new members, the Big East still needs another school to get to 12 for the long term.
“We didn’t get into the discussion of specifically replacing West Virginia,” Marinatto said.
Temple and Memphis are among the schools being considered, the person with knowledge of the Big East’s decision said.
Marinatto said again that the Big East intends to enforce the league’s 27-month notification period and will hold Pitt, Syracuse and West Virginia in the conference until July 2014.
The ACC has said it will not challenge the Big East’s rules, but the Big 12 needs 10 teams to fulfill its television contracts in 2012 and has said it expects West Virginia to replace Missouri and join the league next year. Missouri is expected to leave for the Southeastern Conference soon.
West Virginia filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the Big East’s waiting period and asking the court to speed the school’s divorce from the league.
“I quite frankly was stunned when I heard the news that they were filing a lawsuit,” Marinatto said. “I couldn’t understand under what grounds.”
Even with new members ready to commit, the Big East might not have enough football teams next season without Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia.
According to Conference USA bylaws, UCF, SMU and Houston would not be able to compete in the Big East until 2013, CUSA spokeswoman Courtney Archer said. Those teams would also have to pay a $500,000 exit fee and relinquish about $6.13 million in television revenue.
Mountain West bylaws won’t stand in the way of Boise State or Air Force leaving immediately, but they would have to relinquish this year’s revenue, plus pay either $5 million or double the revenue, whichever is greater.
If Boise State makes it to the Bowl Championship Series this season, it could cost as much as $21 million for the Broncos to jump to the Big East in 2012. But getting access to an automatic BCS bid, something neither the MWC nor CUSA has, is what Boise State and most schools are chasing these days.
The MWC and CUSA have announced a football merger they hope will land it BCS automatic bid.
The Big East has that, at least through the 2013 season, and hopes its latest incarnation can keep it — and be attractive enough to television networks to land a billion-dollar deal similar to what the other automatic-qualifying BCS leagues have signed in recent years.
“(Former Commissioner) Mike Tranghese reinvented the conference in 1990 by creating a football element in order to service its members at the time,” Marinatto said. “We reinvented it again in 2003 and created the biggest and most diverse conference in the country. And now because of all these circumstances, we’re reinventing it a fourth time.”