With eight league members, scheduling nonconference games has never been easy in the Big East.
Now imagine trying to put together a schedule without knowing who exactly is going to be around for the 2012 season. West Virginia has made it all too clear it has every intention of playing in the Big 12 in 2012 -- it already dropped a game against Florida State to prepare for a nine-game league schedule.
It is enough to give Big East athletic directors around the league major migraines.
The Big East has been tight-lipped about when it is going to release its schedule, pending the resolution of two lawsuits between the league and West Virginia. Athletic directors of teams staying in the Big East are hesitant to comment publicly about the bind they have been put in because of the events of the past several months. But make no mistake, this is a nightmare scenario for most, if not all, Big East schools.
That nightmare scenario actually began back in October, when TCU pulled out of the Big East without ever having played a down. At the time, nearly every Big East school had already dropped a nonconference game in preparation for an eight-game league schedule with the Horned Frogs on board for 2012.
When TCU was allowed to leave immediately, without having to wait, that opened up a spot for a fifth nonconference game. Pitt, for example, paid its way out of a game against UCF to make way for TCU. Now the Panthers are in need of a fifth nonconference game. Athletic director Steve Pederson told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last week:
"We actually bought our way out of the Central Florida game. That wasn't our preference. We weren't consulted on letting TCU out of the league without a waiting period. It really has put us in a very difficult spot."
Of the seven teams expected to be in the Big East in 2012, four are in need of a fifth nonconference game: Cincinnati, Pitt, Rutgers and Syracuse.
Now it would be one thing if these schools were looking for one game. But there is a real possibility they will be looking for two should West Virginia leave. Not surprisingly, West Virginia says one of the reasons it should leave immediately is because TCU was allowed to leave immediately.
Throw in the possibility that Pitt and Syracuse could follow suit, and, start reaching for the aspirin bottle.
So what would the Big East do if West Virginia leaves, creating one to two holes in every single team's schedule? There are a number of options.
The Big East could try and convince one of its new schools to enter for 2012. Boise State has been mentioned as a possibility, though president Bob Kustra said it was too late for that to happen.
Big East schools in need of another nonconference game could go the FCS route, but that is probably unlikely. All four teams looking for a nonconference game have one FCS game on the slate. Getting a second is unappealing for a variety of reasons: it diminishes home fan interest, and it also impacts what teams have to do to become bowl eligible.
If the Big East is stuck with seven schools for 2012, then there is the possibility of each school playing another league member twice. It would obviously be a one-time only situation and only done in an emergency.
What about the possibility that Syracuse and Pitt leave as well? Folks inside the Big East and the ACC would be shocked if that happened, but nothing can be ruled out, especially if you read all of what Pederson had to say.
Nonconference scheduling is a tough business. Big East schools are fighting to land some marquee games, but they are not the only ones looking. Florida State needs a replacement game; a few schools in the Big 12 also are in need of filling out their schedules. Oklahoma, for example, has two nonconference openings. Arkansas, Texas A&M and Missouri have openings as well. Most, if not all, want a home game to boot, so that makes things tougher.
Because of the uncertainty around West Virginia, there is a hesitancy from the bigger AQ schools to set up major matchups. So until this issue is resolved, scheduling will remain up in the air.