With Texas A&M formally declaring its exit from the Big 12 Conference, and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State publicly conference shopping, the topic of realignment is again in the spotlight.
It seems that a multi-conference wave of change is poised to happen, with the 16-team “super conference” model commonly identified as the option for moving to a playoff system.
This change could have a terrific or terrible outcome for the Big East Conference. If it can add programs that give it both increased size and stature as a football conference, the Big East stands to benefit. If it does not capitalize, there are many in BCS circles who would like to see the Big East’s AQ status stripped, leaving it on the outside looking in.
The Pac-12 nearly became the first super conference last year and still has desire to become the Pac-16. The tea leaves suggest that Texas A&M will be the thirteenth team in the Southeastern Conference. If so, the SEC will probably add still one more team (if not three).
After the addition of Nebraska this season, the Big 10 Conference stands at 12 teams and is not rumored at further expansion, but its hand could be forced by the Pac-12 and SEC. The Mountain West Conference re-branded itself this season with the addition of Boise State. Although the conference will lose Texas Christian to the Big East in 2012, it will add Hawaii, Fresno and Nevada for a total of 10 programs. It could grow further, and push for AQ status as well.
How realignment evolves will be predicated by the Big 12. If the conference does not remain intact, the Big East will need to lure several programs from that conference in order to maintain its own viability. The Big East’s football members have been subject of a lot of speculation in the discussion of conference realignment during the past. Hopefully the conference will be poised to capitalize as changes occur. To his credit, Big East Commissioner John Marinatto has made at least subtle overtures for expansion to Big 12 programs previously. The targeted schools are Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State.
On the flip side, some Big East football programs (notably Pittsburgh and West Virginia) are apparently coveted by other conferences for their own expansion. This said, for the time being, the Big East is relatively stable, at least in terms of having no openly disgruntled programs seeking membership in another conference. Moreover, other than the Big 10 or ACC (with their geographic proximity), Big East teams are probably not an easy fit in the geography and culture of historically strong football conferences.
The Big East will have its hurdles though. Always a basketball-first conference, it has some unusual circumstances to manage. Because of its long-established reputation in basketball, any changes must consider the impact on sustaining that success.
Additionally, the Big East is positioned to renegotiate its television contract (2012 for basketball and 2014 for football). Like the Pac-12 last year, the league will make every effort to leverage those contracts to drive up the dollar-value. A big TV contract will do wonders for bargaining to add teams.
As a New Englander and a Connecticut fan, what I have selfishly longed for is the return of Boston College to the Big East. A founding member of the Big East, BC moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2005. Despite my ambitions, unless Miami receives the NCAA death penalty and destabilizes the ACC, BC has no likelihood of returning.
If the Big 12 exodus continues though, what is likely would be a push to add Kansas (another basketball power) and Kansas State.
I’d like to see the Big East make a play for Southern Methodist from Conference-USA (from which The Big East previously attracted Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida). SMU would provide a natural rivalry for TCU and better solidify the conference as a Texas recruiting ground.
Iowa State (Big 12) should be in the plan too, as well as Central Florida (C-USA) and Temple (Mid-Atlantic Conference) to assure the Big East of a minimum of 12 football programs.
Without question, the Big East will be affected by conference realignment. With only nine football members in 2012, a tenuous hold on AQ status, and low overall power rankings with only one team currently in the AP 25, the Big East is on a precipice. It must either climb higher or fall into total irrelevance.