Big East mailbag: Expansion madness

As you know, I've been leery of answering too much expansion talk lately. That's because we kept treading over the same territory and there wasn't much new to report.

Of course, developments are coming fast and furious now, with the BCS meetings starting today in Phoenix. So let's do an all-expansion mailbag.

Jay T from Hinsdale, Ill., writes: It looks like Big Ten expansion going to hit the Big East fan sooner rather than later. Why is the league so dead set against taking action prior to the next poaching event? Is leadership unaware of the risks or simply unconcerned with the result for its football-playing members?

Brian Bennett: I hear this all the time, and my response is: What is the league supposed to do? The Big Ten is paying its members about $22 million a year, while the Big East is around $8 million. How is the league office supposed to make up that difference? I suppose John Marinatto could buy some Powerball tickets. Adding teams like Central Florida and Memphis isn't going to change the economics here. About the only card I see the Big East has to play is to kick out Notre Dame, hope like heck that spurs the Irish to join the Big Ten and that the Big Ten would be happy to stop there with expansion. But even that is risky and might not work.

Joe D. from Hornell, N.Y., writes: I disagree with your assertion that the Big East has no realistic alternative to "wait and see" regarding Big Ten expansion. I believe the Big East has a shot at convincing Notre Dame to join for football. ND's AD has already conceded publicly that ND would need to join a football conference. Now seems to be the time for the Big East to be proactive. The negotiations could be very creative with ND keeping a large portion of its TV revenue and the league sharing as visiting teams traditionally do.

Brian Bennett: This is where I typically compare the chances of something happening to my chances of dating a particular Hollywood starlet. But, frankly, my chances are better in this case. Notre Dame isn't joining the Big East in football. Not now, not ever. The league does not offer enough revenue for the Irish, and they view themselves as above playing a Big East schedule. Notre Dame wants to play a national schedule, control things so it can have seven home games and one "neutral" game and have its own passage into the BCS. Jack Swarbrick has said seismic changes in the conference landscape may force Notre Dame's hand at some point. But its next move would not be into the Big East.

BullBro from Tampa writes: Read that the Big East has a loyalty clause now, which states that teams have to give 27 months' notice and pay $5 million to leave the conference. Is that true? If so, at least that gives the Big East time and slows the expansion of the Big 10 until 2012-2013; whatever remains of the Big East will at least have time to bring in new schools or find a new conference to join. Going to be an eventful summer!

Brian Bennett: That is true, and I think it's one reason the Big Ten timeline has accelerated. It does buy the Big East some time, but I wonder if the league would truly want to operate as a lame duck for two years if the Big Ten takes three or four of its teams. The scene was pretty ugly for Boston College in its last year; imagine how it would be for the defectors for two seasons. And while the Big East would have some time to add teams of its own, it's going to take more than two years for programs like Central Florida and Memphis to become legitimate BCS teams.

Dan from N.J., writes: I liked being in the Big East, grew up on BE basketball in the '80's, can't get any better than that. Recently watched WVU bring some respectability back to the conference in 2005 and 2007 with big wins in the BCS. Is there any chance the Big East administrators stick together and turn down the Big 10 offer? I think they won't and if they do all bail. Does WVU have a realistic shot at joining a BCS conference like the ACC or SEC?

Brian Bennett: If someone offered you a 175 percent raise at your job where you would do basically the same thing but change co-workers, why would you say no? Every team in the Big East would jump at the chance to join the Big Ten, just like they were pushing each other out of the way to go to the ACC a few years ago.

If this all goes down, the key is going to be how the ACC and SEC respond. West Virginia is going to be OK because it has such a rabid fan base. Louisville will find a home because of its excellent facilities, revenue-generating ability and all-around sports success. UConn should be fine too because of its attractiveness in men's and women's basketball as well as an up-and-coming football team. The teams that should be worried right now are Cincinnati and South Florida. I honestly don't know what happens to them.

Mike from Prague, Czech Republic, writes: I am an expat living overseas but I still love to follow Rutgers. I like the Big East a lot, but as a RU fan first, I would love to see Rutgers go to the Big Ten. Don't you think that for RU it would help them on the national level with recruits, and possibly one day making the BCS title game? Also if RU joined for the 2011-2012 season where do you think they would finish in the Big Ten?

Brian Bennett: Always happy to extend the blog's reach into another country. Mike, I definitely think joining the Big Ten would be good for Rutgers or any other Big East school in terms of exposure, prestige and, of course, money. But it actually hurts their chances of winning a BCS title or even going to a BCS game.

Remember, all a Big East team has to do now to get to the BCS is win an eight-team league, and a 5-2 conference record has been good enough at times to get that done. Win seven conference games and schedule correctly and you could play for the BCS title. In a supersized Big Ten, you'd have to battle 16 teams and play an eight- or nine-game conference schedule, plus the league title game. That's a whole lot tougher.

As far as how they'd fare: in my opinion, the Big East is as strong, top to bottom, as the Big Ten. The teams at the top of the Big Ten in a given year, like Ohio State and Penn State, may be a bit better than the Big East's best. But when you get to the Indiana-Purdue-Northwestern-Michigan State-Minnesota levels, it's not much different and maybe even a little worse. Don't forget that Syracuse beat Northwestern and took Minnesota to overtime last year before finishing last in the Big East.

Carter from Raleigh, N.C., writes: When the Big East folds after the Big Ten raids three members and the rest of the league is gobbled up by the SEC or the ACC, where will ESPN put you? For the record my vote is a death match between you and Adam Rittenberg to see who writes the Big Ten blog. Two men enter, one man leaves. I think you could take him. But just in case, you should probably start increasing your work-out regiment in anticipation.

Brian Bennett: Hmm ... Rittenberg seems cagey and has probably been toughened by those Chicago winters. I'm not sure I'd want to fight him, especially after seeing my physique next to Dion Lewis'. Maybe I'll end up as the Big Ten East Division blogger. I could always go back to my previous job. The groupies were better there.