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Expansion Apocalypse: No News is Good News

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According to some reports, Missouri, which recently granted chancellor Brady Deaton the authority to make decisions regarding conference realignment, may announce a move from the Big XII to the SEC as soon as today. That move would be the next major shift in college athletics and the ripple effect on other conferences could reach to the rebuilding Big East.

The Big XII is waiting on Mizzou's decision before they finalize their decision on whether to expand to 12 members or stay at 10. There have been reports that the conference is leaning either way on membership, but it still seems that nothing solid has been decided.

Regardless, if the Big XII is going to add schools, a few from the Big East have been on their list. While BYU has been on the radar, it's not clear how serious the Big XII has been about adding the Mormon flagship. There have been reports that BYU presents certain complications that have pushed them down the list, and according to the Austin American-Statesman, West Virginia has risen to the top of that list.

Of course, there were previously reports that Louisville would be the Big XII's top choice, as well as BYU. Instead, when they needed a 10th team to replace Texas A&M, they turned to TCU. In other words: Nothing is final until it is official.

Big XII Targets

If Mizzou does officially withdraw from the Big XII, they will need to find another school for the 2012 season, or find a way to keep Mizzou in their conference until they do. If an immediate replacement cannot be found, it is possible that the conference could play an 8-game schedule with just 9 members in the interim.

That, of course, would force the Big XII schools to scramble in scheduling an extra non-conference game. That may not be an insurmountable task, however.

The 27-month notice requirement to leave the Big East won't necessarily stop other conferences from adding schools from the Big East, but in the case of the Big XII, it may cause them to take another look at working out their differences with BYU. While moving to an 8-game schedule would be possible if the conference really wanted West Virginia, doing so on relatively short notice almost ensures that every member will have to add expensive "buy" games to their schedules.

The question is, would that be worth it? Conference alignment is supposed to be a long-term decision, so spending a few million extra over the next few years might not be a bad investment over time. Then again, giving BYU a few concessions (like no games on sunday and rights to air some games on BYUtv), might prove less costly.

The Nuclear Option

Of course, if the Big XII really wants to expand by taking a Big East school and doesn't want to wait very long for that school to join, there is one more option. The Big XII could expand to 12 members by adding three Big East schools. That would leave just three football members in the Big East, and they could ultimately decide to dissolve the football conference under those circumstances.

If there is no Big East conference, there may be no waiting period to exit the conference. While Pittsburgh and Syracuse would love for that to happen, the enforcement of the 27 month notice clause would be largely dependent on the whim of the basketball schools. Would they have a reason to keep the football members hostage? For some of them, the answer may be yes — as Jay Wright indicated at Media Day, some basketball schools believe that the football league adds value to the conference regardless of it's membership.

The nuclear option may not be such an easy decision, however. Remember that the current Big XII tier-one television deal is for a 12-team conference. When they became a 10-team conference for this season, their television partner let them keep receiving the same payouts under that deal —making everyone involved even richer. With increases in membership, both the ACC and SEC will re-negotiate their television deals for more money, but that may not be an option for the Big XII, since expansion to 12 simply restores them to the terms of the initial contract.

As unlikely as it may seem, there is also the possibility that the three leftover Big East schools in that scenario would want to try and rebuild the conference and hope for the best when it comes to television money and BCS status. At least the Big East brand name seems to carry some level of prestige greater than the Conference USA-Mountain West merger, which is possibly where those schools would otherwise land.

Speaking of mergers

The Boston Globe had pushed a blog recently, claiming that the Big East had considered joining the Conference USA-Mountain West merged football conference to create a 28 or 32-team mega conference in football. Each conference would operate separately in other sports. According to the Globe:

According to sources from those conferences, the plan was devised as a way that the Big East could ensure its place as one of the six conferences receiving automatic BCS bids.

The document, which was obtained by The Globe, reveals an alternative plan which would help the Big East maintain its AQ status -- automatic qualification -- but also provide access to the Mountain West and Conference USA, who hope to gain such status.

Almost immediately as that story was reported, Pete Thamel of the New York Times tweeted that it was false. The Big East hadn't even seen that plan, and would focus on getting to 12 teams.

Outlook

If Missouri joins the SEC, fans of ACC schools can take a breather. The SEC will likely stop expansion at 14 members. However, the Big XII will "act quickly" to replace them, and that could very well result in them adding one or more Big East schools.

If that happens, the future of the Big East schools seem in doubt, especially with no new members announced as of the writing of this article. The Big East football conference has rebuilt from just 5 members before, and could potentially do it again, but could it be rebuilt from less?

This situation might even push Notre Dame to make some difficult decisions about conference affiliation. Orangebloods.com is reporting that the Irish will make a decision regarding whether to remain in the Big East within the next two months. They were very close to joining the Big Ten after the first Big East raid, but ultimately decided to stick it out in the rebuilt league.

What we do know is that the ACC will not accept the Irish unless they bring their football program to the conference, and the Big Ten is likely to feel the same. Orangebloods.com, however, does believe that the Big XII would be open to having Notre Dame join without football.

Would Notre Dame joining the Big XII open a window for other Big East basketball schools to join as well? It is possible, since the Big XII would have an uneven number without another non-football member, but even numbers don't matter as much in basketball and olympic sports.

The future of the Big East hangs in the balance. The best scenario has Mizzou joining the SEC and the Big XII adding BYU and no other school. Any other scenario would seem to have the Big East losing more schools and looking less and less stable.

UPDATE (10:25a): The Boston Globe (who also reported that Big East-CUSA-MWC merger, so grain of salt) is now reporting that their sources think the Big XII will take WVU if Missouri leaves for the SEC and will stay at 10 members for the time being. That gives the Big East football a chance to try and rebuild, and with Louisville still on-board, keeps two of the bigger basketball powers in place. The Big East will reportedly invite Boise State, Southern Methodist, Houston, Central Florida, Air Force and Navy, "over the next several days."

UPDATE (10:59a): LostLettermen.com notes that the Big East may yet replace John Marinatto as commissioner and a favorite candidate to replace him might be Georgetown alumnus and former NFL commissioner, Paul Tagliabue. That may be an unlikely scenario, however, given Tagliabue's age, but perhaps he could be persuaded to take the job on an interim basis, to add some clout to the conference that is heading into what promise to be challenging television negotiations soon. Sports Business Journal believes that a more-likely candidate is another Georgetown grad, MLB executive vice president Tim Brosnan.

UPDATE (2:06p): Now the Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy has written a piece suggesting that the South Florida Bulls could be a wildcard candidate to join the Big XII. That loss would be least-troubling for the Big East. Although Tampa is a bigger market, you don't lose too much going from USF to UCF in football and likely improve basketball with that trade. That would also leave the Big East BCS bid in much better shape than losing West Virginia. If the Big East is still looking for another school in a big market in Florida, FIU might be a feasible option. I wouldn't go to Vegas and bet the farm on USF moving just yet, but it's an interesting side-note to the story.