The Big East Presidents met at the Philadelphia airport Marriott today for their scheduled annual meeting. High on the list of items for discussion was expansion to replace conference members that departed and bring membership of the football league to 12 teams. The meeting started at around 8:00 A.M. and concluded just about an hour ahead of schedule at 1:00 P.M.
The meetings did not include the three departing members, Syracuse, Pittsburgh or West Virginia, who no longer have voting rights on conference issues.
After the meetings concluded, John Marinatto, Commissioner of the Big East told the gathered reporters that, "We had a very productive meeting and were able to discuss the great progress we have made in the last few weeks regarding conference realignment."
A vote was taken regarding whether to authorize the issue of official invitations for new member schools.
"Our Presidents voted unanimously to extend invitations to specific institutions, including both football-only and all-sport members to join the BIG EAST Conference," Marinatto stated. "I will be speaking to representatives of those schools shortly and look forward to announcing with them their acceptance into the BIG EAST.
The statement did not identify the new members that would be invited and Marinatto declined to name those schools to the assembled press. He did note that they would add new markets and strengthen the conference in footbal.
"The addition of these members will extend our reach, bring us to exciting new markets, strengthen our status within the BCS, and lay the foundation for possible further expansion, all while maintaining the high quality and standards our Conference is known for."
He also took time to comment on the lawsuit filed by West Virginia yesterday. The conference presidents discussed that litigation during the day's meetings.
"In light of the lawsuit filed by West Virginia yesterday, the Presidents also discussed and confirmed our continuing commitment to enforce the Conference’s 27-month notification period for schools choosing to leave," the commissioner reaffirmed. "The Conference believes these claims to be wholly without merit and will explore all its legal options to protect its interests and to ensure that West Virginia lives up to its obligations."
Marinatto told the reporters that they expected that all of their invitations would be accepted and that they would not issue an invitation to a school that they did not feel confident would join.The rumored schools involved with the Big East who could be invited are SMU, UCF, and Houston as all-sports members and Boise State, Air Force and Navy as football-only members.
According to Joe Schad of ESPN, the president of UCF stated that his institution had not yet received an invitation from the Big East, but expected that they would receive one soon. UCF along with Houston took actions to authorize university officials to make certain decisions regarding conference alignment last week, and it would seem that both schools are both expecting an invitation and prepared to accept. SMU is a private school, so any board meetings or internal actions would not necessarily be made public, but they would be expected to accept an invitation as well.
All three will be needed as full members just to retain NCAA status as an FBS conference and retain BCS access going forward. The football-only candidates will be added to give the conference some strength in numbers -- both for stability and for an increase in television inventory to offer to their TV partners.
The Big East has not spoken to TV partners about the additions at this time. An Associated Press report, however, claims that industry sources believe that the reconstituted Big East will still be in line for a big television pay day once the deals are re-worked.
The goal is to end up with 12 football teams at the moment. They won't rule out further expansion on the basketball side of the conference down the line, however.
Unless a 7th expansion candidate was quickly discussed and approved at today's meetings, the discussions will continue regarding which school would be invited to round the conference out at 12 members. Potential options that have been mentioned include Temple, Memphis and BYU.
Villanova will potentially also make another push to get back into the football discussion. If the 'Cats were to get the final spot in the Big East, the conference would have 12 football members and only 16 members in basketball and other sports. Recent actions by the university to put more emphasis on football promotion and fund raising suggest that the FBS push is not over yet on the Main Line.
New additions to the Big East will not be officially named until they officially accept their invitations and all of the legal issues related to the moves are finalized.
*Videos courtesy of Kevin McGuire of College Football Examiner.
Update (5:40p): Based on some of last week's events regarding UCF and Houston and reports from the Idaho Statesman regarding a pending Idaho Board of Education meeting on Thursday, we already suspected that the Big East's new line-up could be announced soon. CBS Sports is now reporting that Houston, SMU, Boise State and UCF could all be announced as new Big East members on Friday. Those schools apparently prefer that the announcement for all of them comes at the same time, Boise is the only one among them that is not legally cleared to accept an invitation immediately, but could be after Thursday.
Navy is also expected to join the conference in football only and participated in a conference call with the other schools being invited. Boise State will also need to find a new home for its non-football sports.