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Expansion Apocalypse: Big 5 edition

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Despite wide spread stories claiming that Villanova had some sort of veto power to block Temple University from joining the Big East conference, the New York Times reports that the Philadelphia school is in discussions with the conference. The Owls would come into the Big East as a full member, meaning that their Big 5 clashes with Villanova in basketball would become Big East conference games.

It also means that the Wildcats won't be the only source of access to Big East basketball in Philadelphia. Big time basketball is coming to the Liacouras Center, and it will almost certainly affect the bottom line at Villanova.

"We’re always going to be vigilant and we’re going to continue to do whatever is in the best interest of the conference," Marinatto said about further expansion during the teleconference to introduce Memphis. "You never say never, I guess. But we’ve reached our goal and we’re pleased that we’ve done that. But we’re always going to be obviously continuing to evaluate different opportunities as time goes on."

The onus for adding Temple is the awkward departure of West Virginia, leaving the Big East one football team short in the 2012 season. Temple would need to be able to arrange an exit from the MAC by June 1, 2012 and would take on the schedule that the Mountaineers otherwise would have played.

The Owls have not been doormats in the MAC over the last three years, finishing each with a winning record and two bowl bids, including their decisive victory in the New Mexico Bowl over Wyoming — their fourth bowl appearance and their first postseason win since 1979. Temple's addition isn't driven by football success, however, convenience and availability are bigger factors.

They have also invested in their basketball program in recent years, building a practice facility for that team that is comparable to facilities built recently at power-conference schools. They have been to the NCAA tournament 5 times in the last 10 seasons including the last four seasons and are poised to make the tournament again this year. In the 2011 tournament they won their first postseason game since 2001.

The Big East moved on to adding Temple, because the preferred option of moving Boise State into the conference for the 2012 season fell through. Boise State wanted the Big East to help cover approximately $10 million that would have been due to the Mountain West for them to leave that conference this summer, but the conference scoffed at that figure.

Assuming the move is completed, Temple's addition would bring the Big East football conference to 13 members in 2015, when the US Naval Academy joins.

CBSsports.com reports that the move is also hastened by the fact that Louisville is expected to be a target of the Big 12 conference. Louisville is atop the Big 12 list of expansion candidates and they are expected to accept an invitation to that conference should one come their way. The issue of further expansion in the Big 12 hasn't been decided, however.

An Oklahoma newspaper has cited a Big 12 conference "insider" who believed that expansion would not be considered by that conference until they replace interim commissioner Chuck Neinas with his eventual successor. There is nothing pushing the Big 12 to rush to any decisions, however, and the recent settlement between the Big East and West Virginia University may cause them to think hard about any further quick-decisions.

Ironically, the addition of Temple has been pushed the hardest by Rick Pitino, who has loudly talked about "saving" the Big East (potentially at Villanova's expense) by adding Temple and Memphis while his employer has kept at least one foot out the back door at all times. It now appears that Pitino will get his wish.

It will reportedly cost Temple at least $2.5 million to exit the MAC in addition to any penalties for giving short notice. To exit the Atlantic-10 in basketball and other sports, the Owls will owe another $2 million to give short-notice. It isn't clear what the Atlantic-10 exit fee is if the Owls were to give longer notice to get out of that conference.

A final decision and/or announcement should be made by the end of February.

UPDATE 7:50pm - According to a report on Philly.com, the Big East has had, "recent discussions about Villanova receiving some small compensation if it is to share the Philadelphia basketball market." That compensation would not be in the form of a football invitation, however, and the same report says that there are no signs of the Big East discussing that option.

Georgia State plotting FBS move

The Georgia State Panthers have played just two seasons of college football, both as a provisional member of the Football Championship Subdivision, but that hasn't stopped them from looking into a move to the big time. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the fledgeling program has already been the subject of an institutional study into the feasibility of a move to an FBS conference.

The Georgia State athletics department has commissioned a study into the issue and if an offer of membership in an FBS conference were to come along this spring, they could withdraw from the CAA and play bowl subdivision football by 2014. The report was produced by Collegiate Consulting, an Atlanta, Georgia-based firm.

The report looks into the financial data that would be relevant if GSU were invited to the Big East, Conference USA, the Sun Belt, MAC or WAC conferences. Ultimately it found that "GSU is well-positioned to make a transition to FBS" and "that the Sun Belt would be the best fit."

GSU officials have denied that any decisions have been made or that invitations have been issued to the school at this point. The Panthers would have to file a strategic plan and pay a $5,000 fee to the NCAA in May to make the move in short-order.

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson has stated that his conference is interested in expanding, but prefers to add current FBS schools. Would he make an exception for GSU? The Panthers play their home games at the Georgia Dome, have a large alumni-base and reside in one of the biggest cities in the current Sun Belt footprint.

The report suggested that a move to FBS, even to a conference like the Sun Belt, largely considered a "weak sister" would be a stepping-stone to a more powerful conference like the Big East. Similar to the moves made by UCF, USF and Boise State, who have all moved up and jumped conferences since the mid-1990's.

Villanova football still out?

Villanova football hasn't spent much time on the lips of Big East power brokers since the conference went into panic-mode this fall. The school went from being close to a lock to join the conference in early fall to seemingly being an afterthought. Villanova administrators went from being assured that their invitation was a few issues away to being told that the conference had new and different priorities after the departure of three current members and TCU's change of heart.

In the CAA, the loss of Georgia State may not have a major effect on conference viability if it happens, but it highlights the problem with playing football at the highest levels of FCS: the economics of FCS success push schools to move up and out to FBS. With UMass joining the MAC this season and Georgia State angling for an FBS invitation of their own, the CAA football conference's biggest weakness has been exposed, attrition could kill the league.

Especially with Temple potentially on the move.

The MAC conference picked its last expansion candidate from the CAA ranks in Massachusetts, and would perhaps look to replace Temple with another eastern FCS school. Delaware would seem like an obvious choice. They could potentially also expand further to secure their borders by adding James Madison and/or Old Dominion, both programs seemingly angling for an eventual move to FBS football themselves.

In a rapidly-changing landscape, it isn't likely that anyone is content to sit still. As VUhoops reported recently, Villanova is planning to renovate locker rooms and its weight room in the short term, with additional facilities also likely to be planned and built.

They Wildcats have little leverage to force their way into FBS football. Building facilities is perhaps the only proactive move available to a school that is in Villanova's position.

A direct ticket to the Big East is still possible, but seemingly less likely, especially if the conference were to add Air Force or another western school. A direct ticket to the ACC or another BCS conference is as likely as betting on a donkey in a horse race.

Villanova could apply to join the MAC or new Conference-USA/MWC alliance as a football-only member. Either of those moves would likely set off alarms in Providence and around the Big East and would require Villanova to cut programs to expand the athletics budget. The Big East may not take kindly to having their only member that sponsors every non-revenue sport drop out of about 8 of them. In other words: Close the door on the Big East and maybe big time basketball if the Wildcats make any move without the blessing of the Big East.

A move to a non-football mid-major conference, even a new "power" mid-major conference made up of small private schools is also a non-starter for Villanova at the moment. The Wildcats need brand-name opponents and television dollars to keep the athletics department generally, and basketball specifically, on solid ground.

Just the tip of the iceberg

Realignment isn't even close to being over. The Sun Belt has announced that they will look to expand and the Big 12 may yet match their membership to their name and the new league comprised of Conference USA and MWC members (referred to here as MWCUSA) will also look to add to their ranks until they reach 18 to 24 members. It is believed that Temple was also a target to join that conference as a football-only member.

If the Big East discussions hit a snag, Temple could still find itself in the MWCUSA in 2013.

That MWCUSA formation could affect any number of conferences, with the Sun Belt, WAC and MAC all on the look-out for potential defections. Temple and FIU appear to be the eastern candidates, with a number of WAC institutions, including Utah State on the radar in the west. That would send the lower-level FBS conferences scrambling for members.

Directly, the impact on FCS football could be dramatic, with the WAC, Sun Belt and MAC conferences potentially offering a number of programs the opportunity to upgrade their programs. The upper echelons of FCS football could be somewhat depleted by the time the carousel stops with much of the CAA, SoCon and some Big Sky schools all likely to become targets.

More importantly, if the 16-24 member model works for the MWCUSA, it could trigger further expansion of the major conferences. Partially because the new conference's model relies upon obtaining NCAA approval to hold a 4-team conference tournament in football, adding a potentially-lucrative semi-final round to their television contracts. If ESPN or other broadcasters value those semi-finals as much as MWCUSA hopes, it is only a matter of time before the major conferences will follow suit — and, ironically, that could lead to further MWCUSA defections as the Big East will have nowhere else to look if they lose more schools.

In other words: Stay tuned.