West Virginia is as good as gone. Bob Huggins, who coached in three conferences while at Cincinnati, will now be asked to take his alma mater into a new conference -- at least it will be one he is familiar with from his short stop at Kansas State.
"I was at Cincy for 16 years, we were in three different leagues," Huggins noted. "When we were in the Metro, we were the northernmost school, then in the Great Midwest we were one of the southern schools, and then in Conference USA, we were kind of in the middle. So it changed.
"When I first got there, we were in the Metro, I recruited the South, I had never recruited the South ever, but you've got to do what you've got to do."
As soon as Missouri makes it's exit to the SEC official, what Huggins will have to do, is start planning to recruit from the Midwest and Texas more than from New York and the Northeast. The Big XII presidents have reportedly voted to accept West Virginia's application to their conference and officially admit the Mountaineers if (likely when) Missouri is able to complete it's departure from that league.
In other words, the move is not done yet, but it is near certain to become official. Unless the Big East gets Navy or Air Force to jump on-board before West Virginia's announcement becomes official, the Mountaineers will only have to pay $5 million to exit the conference, though the 27-month notice still applies.
According to CBS Sports, John Marinatto met with officials from Boise State, Houston, SMU, UCF and Navy in Washington D.C. two days ago, but no official invitations were extended. The lack of official invitations suggests that the targets were still weary about joining the Big East. For the MWC schools, the buy-outs needed to leave that conference could be massive -- up to $21 million for Boise State and $9.6 million for Air Force -- meaning that they will have to be very sure that they are making the right move. The western targets would like the Big East to pursue BYU to join them as well, but it remains to be seen if the current members and BYU have any mutual interest.
The Big XII will reportedly stand pat at 10 member institutions, once West Virginia is swapped in for the departing Missouri. That would leave the reeling Big East with 5 football members -- the same number they were left with after the ACC took Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech. Instead of adding 6 members to form a 12-team conference in football, the Big East will need to add 7 now.
Temple and ECU could be back on the table as potential members, either in football-only or all-sports, though it can be expected that Temple will still face opposition.
A Las Vegas paper is reporting that, in the wake of this news, commissioners from Conference USA and the Mountain West, whose football leagues will merge by the 2013 season, are on their way to New York for a meeting with Big East Commissioner John Marinatto. They intend to propose that the Big East football schools join their merged conference to form a 28- to 32- team football league that may or may not have a BCS automatic bid.
Though such a merged league may receive a BCS bid, that remains in question until the new BCS contract is in place after 2013, and the access each school would have to the BCS, with that number of schools, would not be significantly better than the level of access that AQ schools currently have.
Since the BCS will represent the top-six conferences in the country with automatic bids, it is still possible for the Big East to retain AQ-status by taking top teams from the MWC-CUSA merger. According to BCS Director Bill Hancock, the AQ conferences in the next contract will be decided by a vote of every FBS conference and Notre Dame. If the Big East still exists as an FBS conference at that point, it will obviously vote for itself, and unless Notre Dame goes elsewhere, the Irish will surely back the Big East as well. The merged CUSA/MWC league would only have one vote. Combine that with the fact that the merged CUSA/MWC league could look very different in 2013 than it does now if the Big East raids it's members and AQ status is still attainable (though not assured).
The Big East must find a way to look strong if it is to rebuild, however. One step could be the pending addition of Houston, whose regents are expected to meet on Thursday to vote on giving Chancellor Renu Khator authority to negotiate a move to a new athletic conference. The Cougars are currently 17th in the BCS rankings ahead of every Big East school (West Virginia is 25th), and their addition could strengthen the Big East's position in recruiting the rest of its targets.
Another target for football-only, Boise State, is 4th in the BCS standings currently, finished in the top-10 last season and has been a strong performer in the past few seasons since getting to the Fiesta Bowl for the first time in 2006. Cincinnati has also landed in the top-10 of the BCS standings in that period.
"I think it sucks like everybody else does, but it is what it is," Huggins told reporters on expansion. "People have to do what they think is in the best interests of their institution."
The best interests of any Big East institution currently lay in gaining admittance to another major conference. How many options are out there, though? The merry-go-round may be stopping, unless Notre Dame finally has had enough and decides to go elsewhere. The Irish can have their pick of the Big XII, Big Ten or ACC, and if they bring their football program with them, at least one lucky school will get to tag along.
"Leagues are listed day-to-day now," quipped Notre Dame hoops coach Mike Brey last week.
The wealthy Irish boosters prefer to remain independent in football, however, and other than the Big East, only the Big XII would consider them without their pigskin program. Talks between the Irish and other conferences have almost certainly been had -- just as they were five years ago.
"Five years ago when all this was going down, my athletic director at the time, Kevin White, at breakfast one morning before practice, he said, 'we're going to the Big Ten, I want you to get ready,'" Brey recalled. "You hit me with a ton of bricks. In the 11th hour, we held back and decided that we were going to stay independent [in football] and stay with the Big East.
"Unlike some other schools, we're going to land on our feet."
Update (8:00p): The Big East denied the Las Vegas Journal report about a meeting with the commissioners of Conference USA and the Mountain West. That plot-line thankfully will continue to be an imaginative fabrication until a reliable source confirms it.
According to Pete Thamel of the New York Times, however, Memphis is now in the big East picture as an expansion candidate to replace West Virginia and inject some immediate basketball credibility into the football-playing side of the conference.
Update (8:43p): Mike Jensen writes that, "A highly placed Big East source has informed me several times Villanova wouldn't block Temple for all sports if Temple is a 'linchpin' to keeping the league together."
Though, if Temple is a lynchpin and Nova still isn't happy about it, wouldn't Jensen's "Option C" make the most sense?
Update (10/26): The New York Times writes: "Big East officials gave projections to the interested programs that showed that the league would retain its Bowl Championship Series automatic qualifying bid, even with the loss of West Virginia. Those projections are based on B.C.S. points added by Boise State’s annual high finishes, Central Florida’s top-25 finish last season and Houston’s projected high finish this year."