Could the Big East actually make it through the expansion merry-go-round relatively unscathed?
Scenarios and speculation continue to fly every day, but it's been fairly quiet on the Big East front for some time. At least quieter than it was when those erroneous reports about Big East schools getting invitations from the Big Ten hit this spring, or when it looked like the Big Ten might make its move last month at its league meetings. The Big East isn't demanding oaths of loyalty or holding emergency secret meetings; it's mostly just waiting while exploring future options like its own TV network.
Now all of the focus is on the Big 12 and whether that league may crumble under threat of a Pac-10 invasion. There continues to be rampant speculation that Notre Dame is looking hard at the option of joining the Big Ten, which may be all that conference has ever wanted. Maybe the Big East even ends up with some Big 12 leftovers like Kansas and Kansas State in a new geographic alliance.
Nobody really knows what's going to happen, and the Big East is far from safe. But the possibility of the league surviving in some form seems more hopeful today than it did a month ago.
With all that said, it's time to present round 2 of our Big East expansion worry-o-meter, which I debuted in April. The list is ordered from schools that should be the least worried to the ones that should be pushing the panic button.
1. Rutgers (Previous rank: 1): The Scarlet Knights still have the most enviable position in this whole mess. Hardly any scenario exists in which the Big Ten takes a Big East team or teams that doesn't include Rutgers. The school's announcement today that its football program finished No. 1 nationally in the NCAA academic progress rate scores can only help its profile among the egghead sector. If nothing happens, Rutgers stays in the Big East as usual; if expansion comes, the school moves on to bigger things.
2. Syracuse (PR: 3): One national columnist has suggested that Syracuse is the Big Ten's key to prying Notre Dame away from independence, the theory being that the loss of the Orange and one other Big East team would collapse that league. Maybe, maybe not, but pairing Syracuse and Rutgers could give the Big Ten a monopoly on the New York market.
3. Pittsburgh: (PR: 2): Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany's recent comments that the Pennsylvania market is not a factor in expansion could hurt Pitt's chances. The Panthers still seem like a strong fit for the Big Ten, but the geography may work against them.
4. Connecticut (PR: 4): Football is king in all expansion talks, but UConn's success in men's and women's basketball made the school attractive. One has to wonder, then, if the recent problems involving the men's hoops program will prove to be a setback for the Huskies.
5-8: West Virginia, Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati: No need really to go over each school individually. All should still remain on high alert. None has been mentioned as a possible Big Ten candidate, and that's not going to change. If expansion decimates the Big East, these schools will have to hope the league reorganizes in a way that somehow protects the BCS auto-bid status, or they will need to bat their eyes toward the ACC in hopes of landing on solid ground.