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Air Force exploring conference options

Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh called the WAC and the Missouri Valley about possibly placing all its sports except football in one of the two conferences with the expectation that the football team could be invited to the Big East, according to the WAC and Valley commissioners.

The discussions weren't serious enough to move beyond an initial call.

The Boston Globe reported Sunday that the Big East is discussing adding Air Force, Boise State and Navy in football-only moves, and then Central Florida and Temple in all sports to offset the departures of Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC and the potential loss of TCU to the Big 12.

Louisville and West Virginia are candidates for the Big 12 if the league decides to expand beyond 10 or if Missouri decides to change conferences.

Mueh told the Denver Post on Saturday that the Academy has a high interest in the Big East. Mueh said he would know the fate of the Falcons' conference affiliation by the end of October. The Post said the Falcons could move to the Big East in football and then the other sports to the Missouri Valley.

Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin said Sunday that he did speak with Mueh three weeks ago.

"He said they may be looking but that was the extent of it," Elgin said. "Nothing has happened beyond that phone call. I have tremendous respect for the Air Force Academy."

But Elgin said the 10-team Valley has no reason to expand. The Valley has four private and six public institutions and the perfect, 18-game round-robin schedule in basketball.

"We haven't discussed adding an 11th school," Elgin said. "We haven't had any expansion talk in our league. We've had 10 stable members since Tulsa left for the WAC in the mid-'90s."

But the WAC would make more sense if this occurs.

"I have had a hypothetical conversation with Air Force for their sports, and the answer was that if and when you want to talk about Air Force as a non-football member that we would be willing to discuss it," WAC commissioner Karl Benson said Sunday night. "Air Force as a football member in the Big East is doable. That means about four airplane trips. You could say that Colorado Springs to Honolulu (to play Hawaii when the Warriors join the MWC in 2012 as a football only member) isn't a whole lot different than going to New Jersey or Connecticut or West Virginia. I don't think that is something that should be dismissed."

Benson said he'd be willing to work with Air Force, which was in the WAC when Benson was commissioner, before the Falcons joined seven others to split to form the MWC in 1998. The Falcons would make sense in the WAC with the league adding Denver for 2012. Denver and Seattle are joining the WAC in all sports but football.

The WAC will have eight football playing members in New Mexico State, Utah State, Idaho, San Jose State, Louisiana Tech, Texas State, UT-Arlington and UT-San Antonio.

Benson said he hasn't spoken with Boise State. The Broncos left the WAC for the Mountain West this season.

"We have a solid core in basketball and if we could create more geography and regionality then we would and Air Force does fit in the WAC footprint," Benson said.

Elgin said the Valley will activate its expansion committee when it meets in two weeks just to react to the latest shifts in college athletics. But that doesn't mean the Valley would do anything.

Elgin said he hasn't spoken to Boise State.

"I'm convinced that we're at the optimal model for a basketball conference," Elgin said.

Benson said he would caution anyone who assumes that the Big East would keep its automatic qualification spot in the BCS when it is up after the 2013 bowl season.

"There is no guarantee," said Benson, regardless of schools the Big East chooses to add. Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky have also discussed merging the two conferences to form a 22-team league for a possible AQ to the BCS.

"To say that any Mountain West-Conference USA merger that is being suggested would provide a BCS AQ is a real stretch," said Benson. "I can understand the desperate measures that the Big East is in. I feel for (Big East commissioner) John Marinatto. He's trying to hold onto the conference. I've been there. I know how difficult it is for him to go into the office Monday and face his staff. I've been there. People don't realize what's at stake."