The Big East conference presidents hopped on a conference call again on Monday night and officially voted in an exit fee increase from $5 million to $10 million for football members of the conference. The vote was unanimous and both Louisville and West Virginia participated in the call and the vote. The fee reportedly will stay at $5 million for the non-football members.
The twist is that the increase will not go into effect unless Navy and Air Force agree to join the Big East as football-only members. Navy is currently an independent in football, while Air Force is in the process of becoming a football-only member of the Mountain West Conference by moving their other sports out of that conference.
CBSSport.com reports that there remains no timetable to issue invitations, and previously reports had stated that the conference intended to wait until after basketball media day this week so as not to take attention away from the media event. However, talks have been ongoing with Navy and Air Force for a while and it wouldn't be shocking if invitations were officially extended to those schools shortly.
University of Houston officials are reportedly set to meet with Big East officials in New York later this week, according to the Houston Chronicle. That newspaper also reports that an invitation has been extended to the Cougars, but that report may be premature.
Now that the vote on an exit fee is approved, the plan to try and recruit Navy, Air Force, Boise State, Houston, SMU and Central Florida will likely go into effect. The service academies and Boise would join in football-only and all three were reportedly waiting for some sort of commitment from the six current football members before taking talks more seriously. The football members hope that the exit fee increase will be sufficient to get those three schools to seriously consider making the move to the Big East.
Is it enough?
$10 million dollars is a lot of money, but is it enough to prevent a school from jumping conferences? In the Big XII, the average revenue distribution is over 10 million dollars under their current television deals, and even if they expanded back to 12 members, the first and second tier TV rights divide into 12 shares of over $10 million.
When you consider that conference decisions are made with a long-term view, and that television rights values trend upward over time, an exit fee of $10 million is absolutely something you would pay out in order to ensure the long-term financial benefit to your programs. Remember that Villanova was set to spend far more money to upgrade football to join the Big East in April before a faction lead by Pittsburgh blocked the move — the upfront cost was outweighed by the longterm potential of the move.
Perhaps more concerning is the fact that the fee increase is conditioned upon Navy and Air Force deciding to join. That condition hardly conveys confidence in the six remaining football schools' commitment to each other. In fact, it makes the move seem like an attempt to bait the academies into joining (and appease the basketball schools who also asked for the increase in exchange for their support of expansion) more than a true sign of the schools' commitment to each other.
Are we just wasting our time?
All of these moves could be for naught, however, as reports out of Columbia, Missouri have the University of Missouri stepping closer and closer to making a move to the SEC. A university official told the New York Times that the move was, "inevitable and imminent." There is no timetable set for the move to be finalized, but the Times suggests that the process could begin to move by the end of this week:
Missouri’s Board of Curators will meet on Thursday and Friday at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where the process of withdrawing from the Big 12 and applying to the SEC is expected to begin. Expansion is not listed on the agenda, but there is a private session scheduled Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.
Despite earlier reports that there might be some opposition to Missouri joining the SEC, including a push by Alabama to force the Tigers to join the SEC's "East" division so as to keep their rival Auburn from gaining greater access to Georgia and Florida markets.
It is possible that Mizzou could start play in the SEC as soon as the 2012 football season, though the Big XII will attempt to keep them for one more season.
If Missouri leaves, the Big XII will add either one or three members, a decision that has not yet been set in stone. For the Big East, it is a major concern, however, since all three could come from the western portions of the conference. Louisville, West Virginia and Cincinnati, have all been named as Big XII candidates at some point, along with BYU and Big East target, Houston.
Those three Big East members form most of the league's BCS clout in recent years. WVU has been a consistently strong program, while Louisville and Cincinnati have both been to BCS bowl games since joining the conference and Cincy was undefeated and had a chance to go to the national championship game in 2010 if Texas had lost in the Big XII title game (which went down to the last second).
Without those three programs, it is unlikely that even Boise State could save the Big East's BCS bid after 2013. Without the BCS bid, there is little chance that the Big East will benefit as greatly from it's next television contract, and it is unclear whether the football side of the league would be stable enough to survive in that scenario.
Meanwhile, the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA's proposed football merger could also be a big waste of time if the Big East's expansion plan is a success. The 12-member CUSA would lose three members, dropping their membership to 9, while the Mountain West would lose two, leaving them with 8 members in 2012. The planned 22 member football behemoth would become a geographically-challenging 17 member super-conference — without the television revenues of the big six conferences.
If Missouri is truly set on joining the SEC, then the best the Big East can hope for is that the Big XII ultimately decides to stay with Texas' preferred 10-member structure. Even better would be if that conference could work out its differences with Brigham Young University, which would leave the Big East untouched by further expansion. If the Big XII decides to go to 12 teams, or if Mizzou stays put in the Big XII, it is almost certain that the Big East will lose at least one more football member.
The question becomes, at what point does football expansion become a pointless endeavor for the basketball schools?
At some point the value added by the football members will cease being great enough to add value for the basketball schools. The loss of their BCS AQ, which adds television value in all sports, combined with the loss of basketball brands like UConn and Louisville, would probably result in a conference that looked more like Conference USA (or the old Metro) than the Big East – and if the revenues look more like Conference USA as well, there is little value in filling up schedules with basketball games that television won't be interested in.
The Big XII and SEC have the keys to the expansion bus right now. All the Big East can do is continue to make the most of the current period of inaction to try and secure its borders.
John Marinatto is expected to hold a teleconference with the media on Tuesday afternoon to discuss conference realignment issues.
Updated (2:00p): The following is the text of the Big East press release, audio of today's conference call will also be posted online.
BIG EAST MEMBERS UNANIMOUSLY AGREE TO DOUBLE WITHDRAWAL FEE
AND PURSUE 12-TEAM FOOTBALL EXPANSION MODEL
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – October 18, 2011 – As part of a comprehensive realignment effort, the BIG EAST conference unanimously voted to double its exit fee from $5 million to $10 million for football members and move forward toward an expansion plan that allows for 12 football playing members, Commissioner John Marinatto announced today. The increase in exit fee will be triggered as progress is made in signing new members.
The decision was the result of a unanimous vote by the 14 presidents of the conference.
"This development is a significant step forward, as well as a positive demonstration and acknowledgement of the continued benefits of being in the BIG EAST Conference," said Marinatto. "It sends a message to those institutions we are talking to about joining us. In addition, our members have given us their support to move towards a 12-team football model. Each of our member schools is behind this effort, and we are confident we can achieve it. We hope to have an announcement soon concerning new members."