Expansion Apocalypse: Bigger-Ten keeps musical chairs moving

Reports emerged on Saturday afternoon that the Big Ten conference was talking about getting bigger, by grabbing Rutgers from the Big East and Maryland from the ACC. Were the Mayans talking about the Big East? Could this move finally bring about the end-of-times?

The Big East added schools in California and Idaho, the Big 12 has only 10 members, and the Big Ten is now talking about going to 14 members. Expansion Apocalypse is a constant reminder that as long as there is "more money" out there for grabs, universities will find a way to get their hands on it.

In the latest set of proposed moves, the Big Ten conference is reportedly in talks with two cash-strapped athletics departments located in big east coast television markets — Rutgers and Maryland.

Talks are apparently advanced, and an announcement making the moves official could come within a week. The move would have to be approved still by university officials at both schools, but consider it at most a formality for Rutgers if the invite is on the table. The cost of leaving the Big East is easily worth it for the Scarlet Knights who have long lived beyond their means and could desperately use a shot in the arm from the Big Ten's massive revenue distributions.

For Maryland, it might be a little more contentious. Apparently the Terrapins were expecting a written proposal from the Big Ten today, but their Regents have yet to approve the issue, and will not be presented with the move until Monday. The move for Maryland would cost the university a $50 million exit fee, unless they can find a loophole — but a donation through the university's affiliation with the Under Armour brand could help them cover a significant amount of that according to speculation.

Then again, that $50 million exit fee may not stand up to legal scrutiny.

"I would not be surprised, because [Maryland and Rutgers] was always the next step," one prominent college athletic director told Yahoo! Sports. "And [it would explain] why Maryland voted against the $50 million withdrawal fee [from the ACC]."

Any move by Rutgers would be dependent on Maryland being able to find a way out of that $50 million dollar fee, or on their agreement to pay it. A much larger financial payday will encourage the Terps to try and resolve that issue, but the charter member of the ACC could possibly still call the whole thing off — for both schools.

Assuming the move goes through, the Big East would be left with 11 football members, and would increase to 12 in 2015 when the Naval Academy joins the league. The ACC would be left with 13 football members and one non-football member in Notre Dame as well.

Of course, the musical chairs won't likely stop there.

Would Rutgers be the last to leave?

The Big East would lose some football credibility if Rutgers were to leave for the Big Ten conference. In recent years the Knights have been one of the stronger teams in the conference (they would not be a big loss in basketball), but more importantly, the opening created in the ACC would potentially put other Big East teams on the move.

The ACC would want to move its divisions back to an even split of seven teams in each, for practical purposes. Without the ability to raid other power conferences, the ACC would have to look to the Big East again for reinforcement — and UConn looks to be a prime candidate.

Why the Huskies? They have been desperate to move to the ACC since Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced their moves and will likely take advantage of this opportunity to take another shot at joining their former conference-mates in their new league. Boston College no longer has Gene DeFilippo running their athletic department and may not have the clout needed to block the ACC from adding the other New England school.

There is very little chance that a move that affects the ACC wouldn't result in some additional effect on the Big East.

Is the Big East dead?

Losing Rutgers will hurt the Big East's football offerings by eliminating one of the stronger eastern programs in recent years. It wouldn't have a tremendous effect on the basketball offering, however, since the Rutgers Scarlet Knights have never made the NCAA Tournament as a Big East member. If their move caused the Big East to lose another football member as well — say UConn or Louisville — there would be a serious cost to the basketball side of the conference as well.

However, assuming that the Big East didn't lose more than one additional program, the league could certainly continue. The New York television market would be gone from the football league, but the presence there in basketball would remain. The conference is planning to use the basketball reputation as a building block for their television negotiations.

That said, the schools that don't have a better place to head to will remain in place in the jumbo-sized conference, simply out of necessity. The value of the Big East brand in basketball is still high enough to bring in more money for the basketball-first members if they stick around, most likely, and the football members will benefit from the credibility gained by having their product associated with that brand as well.

The Big East will be different, though, and the league's TV negotiations won't be helped by a perceived lack of stability. The quality of basketball going forward will depend greatly on the ability of schools like Villanova and St. John's to field strong teams and whether or not strong programs at Louisville or UConn move on to other leagues.

How far can the shifting go?

If the Big Ten is expanding, other conferences could look to play financial catch-up by also expanding.

The Big 12 has only 10 teams at the moment, but an expansion could bring them back to their namesake number (or more), but the question is whether or not more mouths to feed would lead to more money for the current conference members. The Big Ten's expansion is designed to do just that, but it isn't clear that there are additions for the Big 12 that can do for them what Rutgers and Maryland would do for the Big Ten.

What is that exactly?

The Big Ten isn't talking about adding two more powerhouse football brands. They are instead talking about adding two flagship state universities in states with a combined population of over 14.5 million. They are talking about adding schools in the New York and Washington, D.C. television markets, number 1 and 9 in the nation by size, containing 9,755,430 television households.

With the Big Ten Network earning 70 cents per TV household, these additions could bring in $81,945,612 in additional revenue to the conference. That's before factoring in the potential upswing in the conferences' other media deals. Add to that the ability to put Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State or other massive Big Ten brands in front of a New York and D.C. market every season — the branding benefits are potentially huge.

Unless the Big 12 is going to launch its own conference network and recruit schools in major coastal television markets, the same reasoning doesn't necessarily apply. That doesn't rule out expansion, but they would need to find partner schools that would increase their conference take significantly enough to matter. Which schools would fit?

Louisville certainly knows how to generate revenue, but they do so in ways that won't necessarily make Texas and Oklahoma richer. If their television value were estimated to be high enough, or if the Big 12 could land a bigger fish and needed another school to even out, then the Cardinals could be in.

BYU could also be a factor for the Big 12, offering the Cougars a conference with plenty of exposure, financial resources and access to the highest levels of the postseason. The currently-independent Cougard are a target for the Big East in expansion because they are one of the few "big fish" out there, with a large, global fan base that could help generate TV ratings and interest — and the money that comes with it.

Another option for the Big 12 would be Florida State, who have publicly groaned about the ACC's television pay-outs, and success recently. If Maryland finds a way around the league's buy-out provision, the Seminoles likely could as well. The Big 12 would potentially be interested in gaining a foothold in a large-and-growing state like Florida, especially by adding one of college football's better brands.

If the Big 12 did expand, expect current, and future Big East members to be among the schools they consider, as well as some of the Big East's targets for western expansion.

How will the Big East react?

The Big East has a few options, but their reaction depends on how quickly the secondary moves happen — how many members are on the move? When are they going to move?

Assuming no other schools were to leave, the Big East would have the option of standing pat with no new additions. It would have 12 football teams once Navy became an official member of the league and would be able to move ahead with plans to host a football championship game.

Most likely, however, the league will still want to add at least one more western football member. BYU and Air Force are the main targets in the west (though, BYU woud be off the table if the Big 12 looks their way) and if the league can get one of them, they will need at least one more new member to even divisions. If BOTH are interested, the conference would now be able to add both without moving past 16 members, and would be able to easily shift Temple to the eastern division instead of having them grouped with Houston, SMU, Boise State, San Diego State and Memphis.

Of course, another challenge created is the loss of the New York television market in football. With both Syracuse and Rutgers gone, the Big East would have a giant hole in it's ability to claim the country's largest market in it's most-popular sport. Expect them to think hard about putting the full-court press on Army to sign up.

If both of the western candidates were interested and if Army were to agree to join, the conference would likely add a 16th team as well.

According to former Boston Globe reporter Mark Blaudschun, the University of Massachusetts is very likely to make a pitch for inclusion in the new Big East conference. The Minutemen joined the MAC and became an FBS school this fall, but are apparently already looking to move on. The Boston TV market is good, but it hardly replaces New York.

What about Villanova?

The Wildcats were ready to go ahead and sign off on a move to FBS before the musical chairs started, but are they ready to move now? The financial future of the conference has been potentially altered by recent changes.

More importantly, however, is the question of whether or not the Big East is still interested. While Rutgers would be the last of Villanova football's reported opponents gone from the conference, opinions about the issue may have been altered since the April 2011 conference call that halted the program's upgrade. Can the Big East afford to wait for two or three seasons to pass while the Wildcats transition to FBS? Would the addition of yet another team in the Philadelphia market even make sense right now?

Villanova will need to decide as soon as possible whether FBS football is in it's future and, if so, work to convince current league members that their addition would make sense.

The ACC and other major conferences are probably not legitimate options for the Wildcats, who would face many of the same questions there as they would with the Big East. Losing Maryland, the ACC would not be looking for a non-football member to join them. Instead, they would want a football program; and they would need it as immediately as Maryland could leave them.

Outlook?

If the Big Ten completes moves to add Rutgers and Maryland to it's ranks, it will certainly cause additional moves to be made. The Big East's revolving door may not be slowing down any time soon, and that creates a lot of uncertainty for television deals and for the remaining members.

Basketball-schools in the Big East are sitting ducks in all of this, however. There isn't much that can reasonably be done in the short-term. Until further notice, Villanova will be one of those basketball-schools

Does the Wildcats' administration has a proactive plan in place? If they do, they certainly won't be telling fans about it, that isn't their modus operandi. Instead, it is more than likely that President Fr. Peter Donohue and Vince Nicastro will hold this one close to their vests.

1:30pm Update: Jon Wilner of the Mercury News reports that a source has told him that UConn may announce a move to the ACC as soon as tomorrow. According to Chip Brown of OrangeBloods.com (a Rivals.com site covering Texas), the Big 10's position on expansion has not changed in light of the Big Ten's move(s).

2:02pm Update: According to a CBS Sports report, the ACC is currently engaging in disucussions with UConn, Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida about potentially replacing Maryland as their 14th member. The favorite to get the open slot will be either Louisville or UConn, according to the report, but anything could potentially happen.

5:50pm Update: At tonight's town hall meeting Villanova President Father Peter Donohue said that, "We are open to new paths regarding sports conferences, but it's not as easy as just applying." He went on to tell the student body that the school is always "looking to improve the quality of sports," and promised that Villanova will "not vanish off the map."

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