A lot to work out in a bloated Big East

November, 4, 2010
If the Big East is serious about adding TCU as part of its effort to get to 10 teams in football, then it can expect its basketball league to bloat to at least 17 members, according to multiple sources.

According to a Mountain West official, league bylaws demand that a member play in all the major sports, meaning that TCU couldn't ship its football program to an automatic-qualifying BCS conference like the Big East and still keep its men's and women's basketball programs in the MWC.

According to a source, there has been preliminary discussions with the WAC to take TCU in everything but football, much like the WAC was willing to do with BYU. TCU is looking at options if it can't or doesn't want to go all sports in the Big East.

A Sun Belt official said Wednesday that there had been no contact about housing TCU's other sports outside of football. From a purely hoops standpoint, it wouldn't be great news for the Horned Frogs to go down a level in basketball to a one-bid conference, putting its basketball program on equal footing with nearby North Texas.

The Big East hasn't had official discussions with its membership yet about the format of a 17-team or 18-team basketball league, but there have been some internal discussions within the league office, according to sources.

The easy thing for the Big East to do is add TCU to give it a nationally recognized football program and then hope that current member Villanova bumps its football program up from FCS to FBS so that basketball doesn't have to be disrupted. Adding schools like Army or Navy for football-only would work since those schools put their other sports in the Patriot League. Temple might also work since football plays in the MAC, while all the others compete in the Atlantic 10.

Adding TCU and a candidate like Central Florida would move the basketball league to 18 teams, unless the Knights wanted to downgrade their men's and women's basketball programs at a time when they've poured millions into a new basketball facility. Like the Mountain West, Conference USA has a bylaw stating that no member can play sports in another conference. So in that scenario, UCF's other teams might compete in a league like the Sun Belt or Atlantic Sun or Big South.

As for the Big East, the league office is looking at the possibility of what a 17-team basketball league would look like in two years, assuming any invitation extended to TCU would be accepted.

The Big East has an 18-game regular-season schedule that calls for three repeat games under television contracts with ESPN and CBS through 2012-13. The contract is based on a 16-team membership. CBS and ESPN each get a choice of one of those repeat games. If the league were to go to 17 members, the 18-game schedule would remain the same (although the invitations could be put off for two seasons since a team like TCU couldn't join for 2011-12 anyway because of the late notice).

According to a source, in a 17-team league, each program would play every other team (16 games) and then play two repeat games (instead of three). That means a lower-level repeat game for a favorite like Pittsburgh would go away. CBS and ESPN requested Pitt and Villanova play twice and each received a game. The Big East then kept the rivalry of Pitt-West Virginia for another repeat game. Pitt's third repeat game is against South Florida. Under a 17-team, 18-game schedule, this game would go away.

If the Big East had to add two more all-sport members to get to 18, then it gets more complicated in basketball. The league would likely want to keep every team playing each other once for 17 games. That would leave only one repeat game, likely the rivalry game. If that occurs, the Big East would likely have to restructure its television contract with CBS and ESPN since both networks wouldn't get a chance to televise the same matchups during a season.

The Big East tournament would become another matter. According to a source, the conference couldn't add another day in Madison Square Garden to begin the tournament on Monday of championship week. The current tournament format begins on Tuesday. If the membership was determined to include every Big East team, then they would have to consider playing on a campus site for the first round, which would be challenging because a number of schools don't own the buildings (Seton Hall, Providence, etc.) and would have a hard time getting set dates.

The other option is to go back to inviting only 12 teams to New York, which may not be a popular topic among a number of schools, according to a source.

The league office expects a decision on membership within the academic year, but Villanova may have the first move since the Wildcats' decision to upgrade their football program would dictate whether the Big East needs to grab one or two more football members to get to 10.

According to a source, the Big East membership hasn't discussed a split of the football/basketball schools into two conferences. Of course, there are a number of issues with that split -- ownership of the conference funds, who owns the name of the league and a contract with MSG -- that would need to be worked out before anything of that magnitude could occur.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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