The Big East conference and West Virginia University will appear in Rhode Island court (or their lawyers will) today to give a judge a status report on their court-ordered mediation. They may not announce that they have agreed to settle their differences, but according to some reports out on Wednesday, that deal is getting closer.
The amount of that settlement has been reported as high as $20 million and as low as $11 million, but in either scenario WVU would be allowed to walk away and join the Big 12 conference in 2012. One factor affecting the settlement value is whether or not the Big East can find a replacement in time to fill the spots WVU's departure would leave on the conference schedule.
The Big East has a duty to mitigate it's damages in this case, and the best way to do that would be to have a new member join for 2012 instead of waiting until 2013. That, however, is not currently the plan for any Big East member.
To that end, WVU officials have been calling the Big East's new additions to plead with them to enter the league a year sooner than anticipated, according to CBS Sports' Brett McMurphy. If a replacement program isn't found, the settlement amount is likely to be notably larger. Boise State is considered the most-likely school to fast-track membership, but the timeline is unfavorable to do so.
If a replacement cannot be found, the football schools may have to resort to playing home-and-home series in the fall to fill their empty slots. The Star-Ledger's Tom Luicci reported that Syracuse and Rutgers are bracing to do just that next season. The second meeting between the two teams would apparently not count in the Big East standings.
Regardless of the price, WVU will likely find a way to pay their way out. If the number is too large though, the Big 12's outgoing interim commissioner, Chuck Neinas, has suggested that his conference could be willing to help the Mountaineers scrape together the fee.
"It would be an internal matter for our Board of Directors to determine," Neinas said. "If West Virginia makes a request, we'll take it to the board."
The Big East was always unlikely to prevail in obtaining a court order to force WVU to play the next two seasons in the Big East conference. Their monetary damages awarded in a trial, however, could be astronomical. It also could be less than whatever settlement amount West Virginia is currently offering.
One thing that likely won't be a factor is the ultimate value of the next Big East television contract. Despite the fact that WVU's departure, along with Pittsburgh and Syracuse, is likely to affect the ultimate value of the conference to broadcasters, the conference bylaws anticipate member withdrawal, meaning those future damages are not something that will likely be charged against the departing members.
If WVU departs the Big East early, Syracuse and Pittsburgh will likely also reach deals to depart as of the 2013 season. The Big East would have a hard time keeping either school bound to the 27-month exit notice after allowing another to depart.
The ACC schedule has already been set for 2012, however, so it would seem unlikely that the Panthers and Orange would make a move on short notice. One Pittsburgh blogger, Paul Zeise of the Post-Gazette, has suggested that the Panthers would attempt to escape for the 2012 season regardless:
Steve Pederson is making the media rounds today on the heels of the ACC meetings (hopefully those of us who are lowly ink-stained types will get our chance to talk to him tomorrow) and the one thing that is clear is he is far more optimistic about Pitt (and Syracuse's) chances of playing in the ACC in 2012.
With the ACC planning to go to a 9-game football schedule in order to accommodate the new members, however, it seems unlikely that they would be willing to buy their way out of non-conference games to accommodate a new, expanded schedule at this point -- though it would likely create a few opportunities for Big East schools to pick up the ACC's cast-off opponents.
On the basketball side, however, the early departures likely just mean a greater number of home-and-h0me series in 2012. In a 15 team league, a team would play every other member one time and then have four teams they would play twice.
UPDATED 12:30p: According to reports, no settlement was announced in court this morning. The Big East and WVU were set to report to the Rhode Island judge on the status of their mediation today, but no settlement was reported to the court. That doesn't mean that one will not be reached, however, and it is unlikely that the school and conference would allow the public to first hear of a settlement through a court proceeding. A press release would allow both parties greater control over the message and is more likely how an agreement would be reported.
UPDATED 6:00pm: According to CBS Sports, Boise State has now had discussions with the WAC about moving their basketball and olympic sports to that conference in the 2012-13 season. The Idaho Statesman's Brian Murphy has also stated that Boise could make the jump to the Big East as soon as the 2012 season, despite statements to the contrary by university officials.
Temple to Conference-USA?
On Wednesday morning, CBS reported that the Temple administrators were "stunned" that the Big East was inviting Memphis over them, and had believed that they would receive the next invitation to join the rebuilding conference. While the administrators were scratching their heads on North Broad, however, Conference USA was busy scrambling to pick up the pieces of their own conference.
According to the CBS report, C-USA officials immediately called Temple after hearing that Memphis was going to withdraw, to gauge that university's interest in joining a rebuilt C-USA or, more-likely, a new conference comprised of former C-USA and Mountain West schools.
The two conferences will be accelerating their merger discussions in the coming weeks, but there appears to be some reluctance to pull the trigger. If they did merge, they would form a 15-team all-sports conference with 16 teams in football, since Hawaii will only join on the gridiron. Adding Temple would bring the football number to 17, which likely means at least one other school — possibly Florida International — could also be recruited.
The teams remaining that would be combined, include Southern Miss, Marshall, East Carolina, UAB, Tulsa, Rice, UTEP and Tulane from C-USA and Wyoming, Air Force, Colorado State, UNLV, New Mexico, Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii from the MWC.
Temple could also decline and hold steady with Atlantic-10 and MAC affiliations for the time-being. A football-only move to C-USA or the merged league may even be a possibility if the Owls don't think that UNLV, Tulsa and Southern Miss will be strong enough draws in basketball.
Prior to the Big East's expansion moves, a move for Temple to Conference USA might have been an easy decision, but now, it becomes a referendum on where the school's athletics department is heading. The hybrid CUSA/MWC conference would still offer a better football product than the MAC, but could be a downgrade in basketball competition for the Owls (not that it hurt Memphis to make so many trips to the tournament). The wildcard, however, is money and how much of it the new conference could offer.