The embattled league’s leaders have agreed on a plan to invite Boise State, Air Force and Navy as football-only members, and Central Florida to compete in all sports, after they double the exit fee for current members to $10 million.
An official in the Big East, speaking on condition of anonymity because the conference had not authorized anyone to speak publicly about its plans, told The Associated Press invitations could go out as soon as next week.
Boise State and Air Force, which is located in Colorado Springs, along with UCF’s Conference USA rivals SMU and Houston, would give the Big East – a league that started as a northeastern basketball conference – four football schools West of the Mississippi River.
Big East officials made protecting the league’s automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series their expansion priority. That pushed Boise State, which is in its first season in the Mountain West Conference after a decade in the Western Athletic Conference, to the top of the Big East’s most wanted list, along with the service academies.
The Broncos are 71-5 since 2006, finished 10th in the final BCS standings last season and at 5-0 seem on their way to a top-10 finish. Big East officials believe putting Boise State’s record on the Big East’s ledger when the BCS reviews which leagues should have automatic bids beyond 2013 should allow the conference to make the cut.
Later Friday, those two leagues announced they would “consolidate” their football programs by 2013. Right now their are 22 teams in those leagues, 10 in the MWC and 12 in CUSA, but maybe not for long.
MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson said during a conference call Friday he has been notified by the leaders of Boise State and Air Force that they had been in contact with the Big East, but the presidents of those schools also participated in the league’s unanimous vote to approve the merger with CUSA.
Pittsburgh and Syracuse have announced they will move to the Atlantic Coast Conference, though Big East rules require them to stay in the league for the next two seasons and Marinatto has said he will hold the Panthers and Orange to that. However, that’s unlikely if the league can grow to 12 teams for next season without them.
By raising the exit fee, the Big East is trying to show the schools it has been recruiting that the conference will be stable in the long run. Boise State, Air Force, and Navy, an independent in football, all had reservations about the Big East’s long-term health.
Boise State and Air Force would have to find conferences to house their other sports. A return to the WAC is possible for both, though WAC Commissioner Karl Benson said Friday that he has only had hypothetical conversations with Boise State and Air Force officials about those schools joining as non-football members.
Notre Dame’s goal is to remain a football independent, but if the Big East crumbles the Fighting Irish could end up with no place for their basketball, baseball and Olympic sports to compete. That could force Notre Dame to finally give up football independence and put its storied program in a conference, because it’s unlikely another league will give the Irish the same deal they have in the Big East.
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