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Big East Goes West

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All of the speculation and rumors have finally come to a head this evening, when the Big East held a 5pm conference call to announce that five schools will join the conference for football in 2013, and three of them will join in all sports. It is the first step of an expansion plan that will end with a 12-member football league. That conference call featured commissioner John Marinatto and chairwoman Dr. Judy Genshaft, as well as the presidents of the five new additions, Dr. Robert Kustra (Boise State University), Dr. John C. Hitt (University of Central Florida), Dr. Renu Khator (University of Houston), Dr. Elliot Hirshman (San Diego State University), and Dr. R. Gerald Turner (Southern Methodist University).

The new conference will have a presence on both coasts in football, and the league boasts that it can now feature four football games on one day that will not overlap. The additions have produced four BCS top-25 finishes in the last 2 years and, in Boise State, a school that has been a consistently solid program that has been able to get into the BCS picture often in recent years without the benefit of an automatic qualifier conference. This year, Boise State was passed over by the BCS as an at-large school in favor of the lower-ranked Virginia Tech.

"We've made the commitment to the Big East," Boise State president Bob Kustra said. "I particularly like the idea of introducing Boise State University's brand of football east of the Mississippi and across this nation. I think John Marinatto made an excellent point when he talked about the fact that this is indeed a conference, the only conference in America, in four time zones and a coast‑to‑coast conference. That is appealing to us."

The Big East will now have a presence in all of the top-three states for football recruiting.

The Conference adds some large television markets. Dallas, Houston and Orlando are the 5th, 10th and 19th largest markets respectively and will have schools joining in all sports. San Diego is the 28th-largest television market and will have a school joining in football-only. Boise has the smallest new market at 112th.

On the conference call, commissioner Marinatto touted that his conference would have, "the singe largest media footprint in college sports." The number of television households has increased by 6% from the previous footprint and now comprises about 28 million homes.

San Diego State will also receive a guarantee of a number of non-conference basketball games against Big East schools every year, which will make their solid basketball program an asset to Big East basketball without burdening the conference with the travel requirements of playing a full schedule in San Diego. It will also help soften the blow to a program that will be moving from the Mountain West Conference to either the WAC, or more-likely, the Big West (Boise State will return its non-football sports to the WAC).

In basketball the new conference will feature two teams in each of Florida and Texas, making a trip to those states an annual occurrence for conference members. UCF and Houston have both shown strong flashes of basketball talent and potential, but all three programs being added have room to grow. The Big East hopes that access to the northeastern markets for recruiting and basketball exposure will help those programs to grow.

"The three new schools we're bringing in to play basketball have strong commitments to the sport [of basketball]. They have accomplished head coaches, good facilities, located in major media markets," commissioner John Marinatto told reporters.

"As you know in following the league over the years, our schools, as we've expanded throughout time, have not necessarily come with great basketball programs . . . We've had a history of elevating the levels of the programs that left the league because of the assets that we offer and provide."

These moves would leave the Big East with 10 football schools once the dust settles and Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia all leave for new homes. Both Navy and Air Force are both also considering moves to the conference, but Air Force remains on the fence and the Naval Academy has issues unwinding the numerous contracts it has signed as an independent. Including a television deal with CBS -- who have the rights to the Army/Navy game through 2018.

Marinatto confirmed that the Big East will continue discussions with "select additional schools." Those schools include Navy, but Air Force has decided to remain in the Mountain West Conference in all sports. Navy is still expected by many to join the conference, but the time line for doing so is currently unknown. If they are unable to join, the Big East, which is already searching for another western partner, will need an additional eastern school as well. CBS's Brett McMurphy suggested that Temple could re-emerge as an eastern option as the 12th school, but it wouldn't be without some opposition.

The list of schools under consideration for inclusion in the 12-team model does not include Villanova. That doesn't mean that the Wildcats program is shut out of the Big East forever.

Expansion beyond 12 is not something that the Big East has agreed on just yet, though once the expansion to 12 football members is completed, the conference may begin discussions on further additions. The Big East members have talked about going beyond 12 members and creating a model with additional football-playing members, but at the moment the league's presidents have asked the commissioner to complete this phase of expansion before the issue of further additions will be decided.

Villanova's football hopes rest in that decision to move to 14 or 16 football-playing members.

"We have talked about the idea of going beyond 12 and creating a model that includes additional members, we haven't executed that," Marinatto said. "Our board basically has told us to execute the plan that they approved at our annual meeting on November 1st, and at the appropriate time, whenever that is, we can certainly engage in discussions in regard to expanding beyond that.

"I think once we get our footing established, we can visit the question of expansion beyond that and also revisit the conversation to Villanova's potential of becoming a football member of the conference as well."

The goal in any expansion is to increase television dollars, exposure and access to prestigious bowl games, and the Big East hopes that this expansion will accomplish all of those things. Television negotiations open again in the fall with an exclusive negotiating window with both ESPN and CBS.

Update 5:57p: Air Force has reportedly decided to decline the Big East's overtures and remain in the Mountain West, which means that another Western football school will be needed.

Update 6:39p: Villanova released a statement welcoming the new members (including Boise State and SDSU) to the conference and closing with, "Villanova will continue to work to ensure a successful future for the University, our athletic programs and our student-athletes."


Big East Press Release:



Central Florida, Houston, Southern Methodist Become Full Members

Boise State, San Diego State Become Football Members

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The BIG EAST Conference formally announced the addition of five prestigious universities to its ranks today, bringing its football membership to 10 and securing a strong core group of FBS schools as it expands into two divisions and works toward its goal of staging an annual conference football championship game.

The University of Central Florida, University of Houston and Southern Methodist University have accepted full membership into the BIG EAST while Boise State University and San Diego State University will compete as members in the sport of football. The BIG EAST Conference Board of Directors, by a unanimous vote of its Presidents, extended the invitations for membership. UCF, Houston and SMU will begin competing in all BIG EAST-sponsored sports in the 2013-14 academic year, while Boise State and San Diego State will start competing in football in the 2013 season.

"Over the last 32 years, the BIG EAST Conference has constantly evolved along with the landscape of college athletics," said BIG EAST Commissioner John Marinatto. "The inclusion of these five great Universities, which bring a unique blend of premier academics, top markets, strong athletics brands and outstanding competitive quality, marks the beginning of a new chapter in that evolution. We are proud to welcome these schools to the BIG EAST family.

"Much like the conference as a whole, the BIG EAST name -- though derived 32 years ago based on the geography of our founding members -- has evolved into a highly respected brand that transcends borders, boundaries or regions. It’s national. Our membership makeup is now reflective of that."

"Over its history, the BIG EAST has changed and adapted as needed to maintain its place and leadership in the world of college athletics. And it has always done so with great respect and reverence for its heritage and legacy," said Judy Genshaft, University of South Florida President and Chair of the Conference Board of Directors. "And so it is today. Boise State, Houston, San Diego State, SMU and UCF are all fine schools that will enhance every aspect of the BIG EAST.

This expansion clearly moves the Conference far beyond its origins in the Northeast. With these five new members, the Conference will continue to have the single largest media footprint in college football, spanning literally from coast to coast and all the major regions in between. In effect, the BIG EAST will be the first truly national college football conference.

The creation of a western division is a bold and innovative step that will provide fans with two distinct divisions in football – East and West – which will produce new rivalries, accommodate further expansion flexibility and, eventually, set the stage for an annual football championship game.

The addition of these five new marketplaces boosts the number of the BIG EAST’s potential TV households by more than six percent and up to 28 million.

Four different time zones will also allow the Conference and its television partner the potential to schedule four games on a given Saturday back-to-back-to-back-to-back without any overlap. It is a powerful model and one that will be unmatched by any other conference.

These expansion efforts will create a very unique synergy within the Conference and allow creative football scheduling for the future given that the league will have schools in four different time zones under its auspices.

Central Florida is the second-largest university in the United States with an enrollment of 58,587. Located in Orlando, Fla., UCF was founded in 1963. The Orlando television market is the nation’s 19th largest. UCF has been named one of the "50 Best Value Public Universities" by USA Today and the Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report has ranked the school as a "Top Up-And-Coming" university for the past three years.

The Knights compete in 16 men’s and women’s sports. The UCF football team has won two conference championships in the last five seasons and played in four bowl games over the last six years. Last year, the Knights won the AutoZone Liberty Bowl and finished No. 25 in the final Bowl Championship Series ranking. Going into the 2011-12 academic year, UCF athletic teams have made 86 NCAA Division I team tournament appearances and 92 NCAA Division I individual championship appearances.

Houston, a university with an enrollment of 39,825, was founded in 1927 in Houston, Texas, the fourth largest city in the U.S. and the 10th largest television market. The University’s student body is the second most ethnically diverse among major research institutions in the U.S., according to U.S. News & World Report.

Twenty-two Houston athletes have competed in the Olympics and have combined to win 39 medals, including 20 gold. The men’s basketball program has made five Final Four appearances. The football team has made 20 bowl appearances and won 10 conference championships. This year, the Cougars have enjoyed of their best seasons in history. They finished the regular season with a 12-1 record and a No. 19 ranking in the final BCS standings. One of the top men’s golf programs in the nation, the Cougars have captured 16 NCAA titles.

SMU is the only Division I program in Dallas, Texas, the nation’s ninth largest city and fifth largest television market. The school has an enrollment of 10,981 and was established in 1911. According to U.S. News & World Report, SMU is the best overall undergraduate college in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. SMU is one of only 77 institutions in the U.S. with an endowment of over $1 billion.

SMU sponsors 17 sports. The Mustangs have been ranked as the top school in their conference 11 times in the past 14 years in the Director’s Cup overall athletic standings. The men’s basketball team has won 14 conference championships and made one Final Four appearance. The men’s soccer team has advanced to the NCAA Championship in 16 of the last 18 seasons, including two Final Four appearances. The football team will appear in its third straight bowl game in January at the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.

Boise State is the largest university in Idaho with an enrollment of 19,664. The campus is home of 11 Idaho Professor of the Year honorees since 1990 and the 2011 national champion debate and speech team.

The football program has been one of the nation’s best in recent years. Since 2002, the Broncos have won eight conference titles and earned eight top 25 finishes in the national polls, including a top 10 finish in each of the last four seasons. Boise State won the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in 2010 and 2007. The Broncos, who play in Bronco Stadium with its distinctive blue turf, have finished in the top 10 of the BCS standings for the last three years and are ranked No. 7 this week. Off the field, the football program won the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Academic Achievement Award. The Bronco football team had a 100 percent graduation rate for members of its student-athlete class of 2004.

San Diego State is the oldest and largest higher education institution in the San Diego region and fifth largest in California. Founded in 1897, the university has grown to become a nationally ranked research university and has an enrollment of 32,396. Increasingly recognized for innovative research, San Diego State has achieved the prestigious designation of "Research University" with high research activity granted by the Carnegie Foundation. The San Diego market is the 28th largest in the U.S.

The SDSU football program has enjoyed recent success with a 9-4 record in 2010 and a win in the Poinsettia Bowl. This year’s team owns an 8-4 mark and will play in the New Orleans Bowl. The Aztecs play their home games at Qualcomm Stadium, the home of the NFL’s San Diego Chargers. San Diego State has had 134 players become NFL Draft picks, including 13 since 2004.

The five new schools join Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers and USF as the teams competing in football in the BIG EAST Conference and UCF, Houston and SMU join DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova in all other sports. With the addition of the five new schools, the BIG EAST will have the largest footprint of any college football conference in the nation, with a coast-to-coast presence spanning eight states in five different regions of the country.