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Big East Deathwatch: Day 20

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News broke this morning that the Big XII has voted to extend an invitation to Texas Christian University (TCU), to replace Texas A&M and bring the conference membership back to 10 schools. TCU was expected to join the Big East from the Mountain West Conference next season prior to this development. The Horned Frogs have scheduled a meeting of their Board of Trustees and will vote on the invitation as soon as possible and make an announcement shortly.

TCU has confirmed that they are in talks with the Big XII and will almost certainly be joining that conference. TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini, Jr. released the following statement:

"These discussions with the Big 12 have huge implications for TCU. It will allow us to return to old rivalries, something our fans and others have been advocating for many years. As always, we must consider what's best for TCU and our student-athletes in this ever-changing landscape of collegiate athletics. We look forward to continuing these discussions with the Big 12."

It is expected that they will accept the invitation and join the Big XII conference officially in June. They are not subject to the same 27-month waiting period that Syracuse and Pittsburgh are currently being held to, but will likely have to pay the largely-inconsequential $5 million exit fee.

It is not clear if the Big XII has agreed on a number of invites to extend. There were some internal debates over whether they wanted 10 or 12 members. In any case they clearly wanted to add one more member. Others under consideration are BYU, Louisville and West Virginia.

They may be forced to add another member soon, if the University of Missouri were also to leave the conference. That said, acording to a report online, Mizzou does not currently have the votes to get an invitation to join the SEC. Their preferred option, the Big Ten, is also not particularly interested in expanding at the moment. Things can change in an instant, however, and the Missouri situation is one that many will be monitoring.

The Big XII is looking far more stable than it did a month ago. Texas has agreed not to air any high school programming on the Longhorn Network for six years, which is the period of time that the member institutions have agreed to commit their Tier 1 and Tier 2 television rights to the league. Missouri reportedly wanted that grant of rights extended to 13 years, but talks broke off because Texas didn't want to make concessions regarding the Longhorn Network and make a longer commitment of their TV rights. Talks about extending the grant of rights to 13 years could still resume, however.

This leaves the Big East with just 6 football playing members, but if the Big XII or SEC are still hungry for expansion, more departures could be coming. Meanwhile, without some degree of stability, it may be impossible for the Big East to replace departing members with suitable candidates. Navy already put the breaks on their planned move to the conference when Syracuse and Pittsburgh left the league, and no formal legal or financial move has been made to secure the commitment of the remaining schools.

The Big East will struggle and make some attempt to survive, but additional losses mean that the conference may be unlikely to retain its automatic BCS bid. The six current members, however, likely still retain that status under the current BCS formula if they are able to stabilize and expand back to, at least, 8 members.

In order to reach a more desirable 12-member configuration, however, the Big East will need to find a way to double the size of the conference in football. Names that had been mentioned in expansion included East Carolina, Temple, Army, Navy, Air Force, SMU, and Central Florida. Other candidates could include Houston and Memphis, and apparently Tulane has also been making phone calls. Each candidate has it's pros and cons, clearly.

If a continued association with the basketball schools is part of the equation, however (and that seems in doubt), the addition of at least two, and possibly all three, service academies as football-only members would seem to make sense to get the conference back to 9 members without adding to the basketball side. The addition of Villanova would also help in that regard.

The possibility that the Big East's days as a football conference are over is getting more and more real. Villanova's move to FBS is clearly put in an even more precarious situation, since the administration would have to hesitate before accepting an offer to a league that looks like it might not exist in 2015. Even if the Big East were likely to continue operations, their first need is an immediate one, not a need for schools that could join in 3 years.

Update (2:22p): Dave Sittler is reporting that a Big XII source said that the conference would probably sit at 10 members for a while if Missouri stays on board. If Mizzou leaves, they could stay at 9 for a year or so, or expand again. The next target school if they expand further would be Louisville, but BYU, West Virginia and Tulane also on the short-list. There are unstated complications with adding BYU.