West Virginia was one of the most successful football schools in the Big East. Their state and television market are small -- as is the closest airport -- but their fan-base shows up for games at home or away and that has apparently pushed the Mountaineers to the top of the Big XII's expansion list. According to CBS Sports, the Big XII voted to issue a formal written invitation to West Virginia on a 7 a.m. conference call this morning. The invite could come as soon as today and West Virginia is expected to accept.
The Big XII also reportedly voted to stop expansion after West Virginia. That means that once Missouri completes its exodus to the SEC, the Big XII will have 10 members.
This all comes after some drama earlier in the week where it appeared that the Big XII had taken the 'Eers to the altar only to walk away before saying "I do." West Virginia believed it had an invitation in the bag, when a last minute push from Louisville and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell caused the conference to put that move on pause while they conducted more 'due diligence.'
West Virginia has announced the move in a press release, claiming that they will start competing in the Big XII next season. The Big East statement on their move, however, notes that they intend to hold the Mountaineers to the 27-month exit notice provision of the Big East bylaws. It is unlikely that the Big East can legally force West Virginia to remain in the conference for any period of time, but if they were to leave the conference sooner than that period without obtaining approval, they would be liable to the Big East in a lawsuit for any damages their early departure might have caused.
Only losing one of Lousiville or West Virginia leaves the Big East in a better position to rebuild than had they lost both. The Big East will now have a much better chance of retaining it's BCS automatic bid in 2014 and beyond. In order to try and ensure that status, the Big East will look to add Houston, UCF and Boise State along with Air Force, Navy and SMU in the coming days or weeks. Houston is currently undefeated, as is Boise State, and both schools are rated highly by the BCS at the moment. UCF finished last season rated in the BCS top-25.
Though no invitations have been issued just yet, but the Big East is putting a hard sell on those target schools to join up. John Marinatto took his roadshow out west this week to make pitches to Air Force and Boise State. Both schools have expressed some reservations about the Big East, but with the dust seeming to settle and certain schools on the move, the Big East may yet offer more money, exposure and access than the Mountain West - Conference USA alliance league that they would participate in otherwise.
On Thursday, officials from the University of Houston met and gave their president and chancellor the authority to negotiate contracts related to conference alignment. This morning, the board of the University of Central Florida did the same. Both of those moves could be finalized shortly, and invites could be voted on and issued when the Big East presidents hold their annual meeting in Philadelphia next week.
Assuming those two schools join, it may be safe to say that Boise State would not be far behind. They have already made phone calls to conferences to find a landing spot for basketball and their non-revenue sports, and the Idaho Statesman believes that they will make the move to the Big East if they believe that the conference will generate enough television money to leave their athletics department better off.
If those three schools are on-board, the league should look a bit more tempting for the service academies and SMU.
The departure of West Virginia means that the Big East will need to add one more football program to get to 12 members in that sport. The candidates would include Temple, who had been mentioned previously but faced opposition and was ultimately dropped in favor of moving into Texas, and ECU. Memphis' name has also recently been mentioned by some schools that are worried about selling basketball tickets.
The western target schools, however, would like to see BYU be pursued. Their football brand alone could generate a lot of money for the Big East, and it would provide a natural geographic fit for schools like Boise State and Air Force. The Big East reportedly reached out to BYU before about football membership, but the Cougars were not interested at the time. With Big XII expansion leaving them out, could that position change?
At the moment, Villanova football has not been mentioned in any Big East discussions. Could the 'Cats get the 12th spot, or will fans have to hope the league moves to 14?
The following was put out by the Big East this morning:
Statement from Commissioner John Marinatto on the departure of West Virginia:
"This move by West Virginia does not come as a surprise. League officials, members of our conference and the candidate schools to whom we have been talking were aware of this possibility. We have taken West Virginia’s possible departure into account as we have moved forward with our own realignment plans. West Virginia is fully aware that the Big East Conference is committed to enforcing the 27-month notification period for members who choose to leave the conference. We are confident that in the coming weeks we will complete our own realignment program, adding a number of high-quality members to remain among the top conferences in both football and basketball."
UPDATE (12:53p): The New York Times added to the story by claiming that the Big East could move to a 14 team football configuration, with 18 or 19 basketball school:
There is also a notion percolating that the Big East needs to grow beyond 12 football programs and 16 basketball programs to better fortify its basketball side and protect itself from further poaching of its football teams. That leaves open the possibility that the Big East can grow to a 14-team football league and an 18-team basketball league.
Becoming the 14th football member is probably Villanova's best chance of ever getting an invitation to play Big East football, but so far the Wildcats' haven't been mentioned as a serious candidate to join up since the departures of Syracuse and Pittsburgh.