What has gone wrong for the Big East?

Less than a year ago, Big East commissioner John Marinatto put on a purple and black tie for a news conference in Fort Worth to welcome the newest member of his league.

After TCU accepted an invitation to join the Big East on that day in late November, Marinatto said the immediate goal for his league was to get to 10 teams.

Today, he has six football schools remaining.

The Big East has tried to put on a happy face, saying it would emerge stronger from this. On Monday morning, its presidents and chancellors authorized Marinatto to begin formal discussions with prospective members, and to consider moving to 12 teams. Later that day, TCU officially left for the Big 12.

Teams like Army, Navy, Air Force, UCF, East Carolina and Temple have been thrown around as possibilities. Of course, these teams have been possibilities since last year. But the Big East took its time, and now it is paying the price.

So what has gone wrong?

Perhaps most frustrating to Big East fans is hearing the league say it is "aggressively" pursuing new members. They ask, "Where has that aggressive pursuit been in the last year?" Publicly, at least, the Big East never really made its vision of the future clear. Would the league like to have 10 members? Twelve? A conference championship game?

Officials surely worked behind the scenes to figure out what would help enhance the league. But it did not help matters when it flubbed things with Villanova last April. The league believed it had the full support of its members when it asked the school to consider moving up to FBS. When the school agreed, several football-playing members raised concerns about having home games in a soccer stadium. A decision was put on hold.

Knowing it needed expansion answers before getting a new TV rights deal did not quicken the pace, either. Believing it would be in much better position when those rights came up next year, the Big East turned down a reported $1 billion deal with ESPN this past summer.

You have to wonder whether anything would have changed had Villanova become a 10th football member and the Big East signed off on a new TV deal. Would Syracuse and Pitt have jumped to the ACC, sensing more security there than in the Big East? If they had stayed, would TCU have gone back on its commitment and jumped at an opportunity to join the Big 12?

The what-if game is an exercise in futility, of course. The Big East has to live with the reality now that it has to rebuild for the second time since 2003.

Six football-playing schools remain; are all six absolutely committed to the future of this league?

Because we were told that everyone -- including TCU -- made a pledge of loyalty to the Big East after Pitt and Syracuse left. UConn has made it clear it would prefer to be elsewhere. Louisville and West Virginia have been mentioned as possible Big 12 candidates.

The league can be as aggressive as it wants now that it is on the brink. But this is a conference with serious question marks moving forward, whether it adds three teams, four teams or six.

The Big East can survive. But its future as an automatic-qualifying conference is far from guaranteed.