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Expansion Apocalypse: Crisis Averted

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Just one day after the U.S. Naval Academy announced that it would move it's football program to the Big East conference in 2015, a report came out through Brett McMurphy of CBS Sports that the Big 12 conference was meeting on Wednesday to discuss possibly adding one or more schools.

To make matters worse for the Big East, the report noted that Louisville would be the "slam dunk" choice to be the 11th team invited. Louisville was passed over by the conference in favor of West Virginia a few months ago when they needed to add a 10th member to replace Missouri. The Big 12 would also give consideration to Brigham Young university as part of any expansion.

That conference has had difficulty deciding on a final number of teams, with some interest groups preferring a 12 team model and others (Texas) preferring to hold steady with 10 members.

The 10-team model appears to be winning the day, despite the conference office leaving the door open to expand again in the future.

"I don't anticipate there's going to be a movement off 10," interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas told Lubbock radio station Double-T 104.3 FM. "It could happen down the road, but we definitely won't be beyond 10 for 2012-2013 and there is strong feeling within the membership that 10 provides the opportunity for round-robin in football and you play everyone in basketball twice ...

"That seems to be appealing to the conference members. To go beyond that will take a lot of research and hard thinking."

A potential crisis, seemingly averted.

The Big East will apparently move forward without further damage in the immediate future. The potential loss of Louisville or another Big East member like Cincinnati or future member like Houston would be very damaging to the conference's future. Louisville in particular is one of a few keystone basketball brands that the conference will need to rebuild around.

The power of litigation

The Big 12 may be unwilling to rock the boat in hopes that the Big East and West Virginia will reach a settlement agreement that has been rumored to be in discussion. They have plans to announce their 2012 football schedule on February 1, in order to meet requirements to their television partners. They also need to have a 10th member to comply with those agreements.

There are rumors that have been mentioned by media sources that the Big East and WVU may be near a settlement agreement.

If the Big 12 were to further raid the Big East membership it could jeopardize any willingness that the conference may have to settle it's legal dispute with West Virginia. In fact, there is still a chance that the Big East could amend it's pleadings to make the Big 12 a defendant in that case as well.

If West Virginia's exit costs are greater than what the Mountaineer administration is capable of expending, the Big 12 may be willing to assist them in covering the difference.

The blame game

Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas, who also serves as a consultant to C-USA and the Mountain West Conference on their merger plans, blamed the current mess on Missouri being "selfish" and demanding to leave immediately. According to the Charleston (WV) Gazette:

"The one thing that gets lost is we're in this predicament because the SEC invited Missouri," Neinas said. "But the SEC was willing to play with 13 [rather than 14] next season. We made an offer to Missouri that was financially beneficial to stay for another year. Missouri made the decision not to accept.

"We had a teleconference call with those in the SEC, Big East, ACC, Mountain West and Conference USA. We all agreed we could save money and avoid litigation if all held serve for 2012-13. All agreed. But Missouri made a very selfish decision. It's been very disruptive. Missouri gave us notice in November [of 2011] and it's pretty difficult to move forward then."

He wasn't very sympathetic over how these moves have affected the Big East though.

"The Big East gets on planes and flies all over the country inviting other schools," Neinas [told the Charleston (WV) Gazette]. "But they raise hell when West Virginia wants to come to the Big 12?

"We didn't solicit West Virginia; West Virginia solicited us -- as did other Big East schools. It seems to me the Big East has a double standard. And the Big East was talking about [automatic qualifying status to the BCS]. There's not going to be AQs in the near future."

To date, no conference has asked a potential new member to join sooner than their current conference's exit notice period other than the Big 12. The Big East may have flown on airplanes to line up its expansion schools, but all of them have given notice to current conference partners and will withdraw according to the bylaws and provisions they are currently bound to.

Neinas has had discussions with Big East commissioner John Marinatto, specifically noting that they spoke at the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans this year, but would not divulge the substance of those discussions. He also declined to speak about potential solutions to the fact that at least one of the Big East or Big 12 will be without a 12th scheduled football game for next season.

Up next? The Big East needs to add at least one more football member by 2015 in order to host a conference championship game.