Big East has a chance, football may be dead

Big East expansion rumors are flying faster than Superman these days. The latest involves the happenings on a Big East basketball-schools conference call yesterday. It seems that the basketball members discussed the future of the conference and their ability to reach common-ground with the football members and left confident that the conference could be saved. They hope to get an increased exit penalty done today.

According to the Sporting News, there will be a conference-call vote on, "dramatically increasing the exit fee for universities wishing to leave for other conferences." The increase would require schools to pay three times its annual revenue in order to withdraw, for a total penalty varying between $15 and $17 -million. Louisville, who have been talking seriously about joining the Big XII, is not expected to participate in the vote on the advice of legal counsel.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Big East basketball members are backing Villanova's position that the conference does not need or benefit from having two basketball programs in Philadelphia. Villanova is not trying to prevent Temple from being invited to the conference as a football-only member (again), and it looks like the Owls might still get that call.

According to the reports:

Right now the top working model includes adding Temple for football only, and no move-up to the Big East for Villanova football.

. . .

According to a Big East source, Villanova hasn't tried to put up an "over our dead body" block on Temple for joining the league for all sports but made it known they'd prefer that Big East basketball not include two schools sharing the same market.

Navy and Air Force are still the top priority as football-only members and Boise State has gained some traction in recent discussions. All three of those schools will not take their foot off of the brakes until new exit fees and TV-rights grants have been established. They won't take what's behind door number-3 unless they get a chance to peek.

Other expansion options being discussed include Conference USA schools, Central Florida, East Carolina, Houston, and SMU, but the ultimate targets can shift quickly if the Big East opts to go west by adding Boise and Air Force in football. If the football league adds those western members, they would be more open to teams in Texas and other points.

The basketball side of the conference, meanwhile, could expand to as many as 20 schools.

According to Mike Jensen, the issue with Villanova football is one of timing -- the league needs help now. While the 27 month notice for departing members plus two-year grace period are sufficient time for the 'Cats to transition to the FBS, it may not be transition time that is holding them back.

Villanova administrators might have a case of "cold feet" about the financials of joining a weakened Big East (but one that will likely have a healthy TV contract and a BCS bid through 2015). They want to crunch some more numbers before making a decision, while the conference is looking for schools that can commit without a protracted process.

The chances are slim for Villanova football to ever make it to the Big East or to any major conference if the move doesn't happen now. The Big East was easily the 'Cats best chance to do so -- the other major conferences are unlikely to take on a transitioning FCS program, no matter how strong its hoops team is.

After arguing that Temple hoops should not be invited to the Big East because the conference already has a member in the Philly area in that sport, the 'Cats will have a hard time arguing that the same logic doesn't apply to Villanova football if the Owls were to join in that sport.

Furthermore, with the league moving to 12 football members in the short-term, the 'Cats would have to wait until football members were willing to expand again to 14 or 16 in order to get an invite. Expanding to those numbers, however, could increase the basketball side of the conference massively, and could be undesirable. Unless, of course, the conference splits in two; which may be part of the plan anyway -- forming an "umbrella" that competes together in basketball to some degree.

Umbrella's however, are easily blown apart by heavy wind, and the winds of change are blowing strong these days. As Texas A&M put it, "this is a 100-year decision," and the 'Cats appear to be poised to spend the next 100 years on the outside looking in.

Update (2:00p): The NY Post reports that if the exit penalties are approved, the Big East will invite Boise State, Air Force and Navy as football members and UCF in all-sports shortly afterward. The Post has been reporting about "imminent" invitations for a while now, and none have panned out, so take that with a grain of salt.

CBS Sports also reports that the vote on exit fees may happen on Sunday rather than today:

On Sunday the Big East's presidents and chancellors are expected to vote and approve an increased exit fee of at least $10 million for football members. That’s double the current amount ($5 million), but less than what Marinatto proposed in an Oct. 2 meeting. In that meeting there were discussions to increase the exit fee to "150 percent of the gross revenues received by a departing team in its final year in the league," according to league documents obtained by CBSSports.com.

That figure would have been between $12 million and $15 million.

CBS also expects that the league will look to add Houston and SMU rather than Temple.

Update (9:00p): The Boston Globe is now reporting that the Big East presidents have approved a plan to increase the exit fees to $10million and to invite Air Force, Boise State and Navy in football only and Central Florida, Houston and SMU as full members. No movement on that plan is expected to happen this weekend as the Big East bylaws permit a 72-hour "buyers remorse" period (Editors Note: "buyers remorse" is our term, not the Big East's).

Temple was also discussed in today's meeting, but, as the Globe writes:

The debate over Temple revolved around whether to admit Owls, who were asked to leave the Big East in 2004, into the conference as a full member or only in football or a full member. But Villanova, which has contemplated moving from the FCS to the FBS level, presented a strong argument and blocked the Owls entry.

If Navy chooses not to join the conference, Temple's candidacy might be revisited, but the Big East is confident that Navy will join them. Boise State and Air Force would join the WAC in their other sports.

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