Expansion Apocalypse: Military Edition

A week ago CBSSports.com's Brett McMurphy unleashed the news that the Big East would consider inviting Army and Navy as associate members in football. The idea is that the two academies would allow the Big East to expand it's football offering into a 12-team league with a championship game, without expanding the basketball side.

Adding additional basketball teams would increase the basketball "inventory," just as expanding the football league will do, so why is it undesirable? A combination of logistical and economic concerns.

Logistically, scheduling a 20-team league could be difficult and might require an expansion of the league schedule, cutting into out-of-conference games. Getting 20 teams into a conference tournament at Madison Square Garden would also be a nightmare, but none of the coaches would want to cut the field down. Finally, administration of a conference that needed 20 schools to agree (or even most of them) to get anything done would be a nightmare.

Economically, a TV network would likely pay more dollars for any additional inventory. If you added the worst Division 1 school to the Big East, the total value of the TV contract would likely still increase. The issue, is how much it will increase. Adding a program with little or no draw won't add much in the way of inventory that a TV network will actually air. If each basketball school is currently making around $2 million per year from the conference, it would be a pay-cut to add any program that increases revenue by anything less than $2 million per year.

In ESPN's case, those games are a little more valuable because they can be farmed off to ESPN3.com with the rest of their fringe content. Not every network has a strong online platform, however, and without that, games unworthy of airing are close to value-less.

In fact, this is all something that can't possibly be lost on the football schools. Louisville has one of the nation's most profitable basketball programs, and at most of the other football schools, basketball generates either the majority of athletics department profits or at least a very significant amount. Maintaining basketball revenues is a priority for everyone involved.

Army and Navy made sense in that regard. If they were to join, it would be as football-only members. They are geographically contiguous and in or near major markets. Even more so, they add a national draw that exceeds their level of competitiveness. Combine that with the potential of a championship game and the cash-bonanza that comes with it, and you have a winning idea.

That draw is the reason why a 6-win Army team can go to a bowl game while the 8-win Temple team that beat them stayed home.

The Academies joining the Big East was never a slam-dunk. In fact, it was a far better move for the conference than for either of the two schools.

Army's Athletics Director, Boo Corrigan, all-but-confirmed that this week when he told reporters that West Point is content to remain independent, despite being contacted by Big East officials. While Navy has always been an independent in football, Army was a member of Conference USA for seven years, a span that saw their program fall further and further from grace.

For Army, independence has given the program some breathing room and flexibility. Neither academy desperately needs the BCS money to support their athletics programs — they are fully funded by the Department of Defense — nor do they gain much advantage from playing a full schedule against Big East opponents.

The academies currently have the freedom to schedule games played anywhere in the country. Like Notre Dame and BYU, their football programs are a traveling roadshow to promote something. In this case, the branches of the service that they each represent.

That schedule also allows them to virtually assure themselves a shot at a bowl game in any given year. Bowls line up for Army and Navy too. Last year Army had an agreement to play in the Armed Forces Bowl, well before the season ended, and this season, their sixth win will send them to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. They don't rely on conference standing or a bowl with an unfilled slot calling at the end of the season; their bowl game arrangements are made far in advance.

Much like Notre Dame, it will take a "seismic shift" in the college football landscape to force the academies into a conference.

The Big East will have to move on to the next plan.

What will that be? Perhaps back to the earlier discussion of adding a school or schools from Conference USA.

Sources tell VUhoops that Villanova football is still very much a part of the discussion in the Big East as well. While the conference internally discusses and debates different expansion scenarios, there will be little movement. In fact, a resolution to the expansion discussion could be a year away.

Nothing is close to settled with the conference yet, but there is some optimism in the Villanova camp that things will work out. Perhaps that feeling is bolstered by comments like those of Louisville A.D., Tom Jurich, who recently told the Louisville Courier-Journal:

[Villanova is] already in the footprint of our league, and they've got a history with this league and done a lot of great things. For them, a lot of it is going to be logistics. . . . Villanova is a strong program right now. There's a strong argument that they could finish in the middle of our league right now, at 63 scholarships.

Despite the glowing endorsement, Jurich went on to tell the newspaper that he would be happy if the conference stood still with nine football members. That opinion, of course, may not matter with Rutgers and perhaps other football schools pushing hard to get to either 10 or 12 gridiron members.

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