Schools make pledge to stay in Big East

NEW YORK -- Big East commissioner John Marinatto said Tuesday that all of the members of his conference are committed to staying together, the result of a three-hour meeting in New York between presidents and athletic directors from the Big East football schools.

Marinatto said each member pledged to remain in the conference
and the membership -- including Notre Dame
and the seven other non-football members -- is committed to
aggressively recruiting replacements for Syracuse and Pittsburgh, though he would not indicate which schools are candidates.

But after the meeting broke up, a source told ESPN's Joe Schad that the Big East's initial expansion targets would be the service academies -- Army, Navy, and Air Force -- with Central Florida and East Carolina as second-tier possibilities.

Marinatto said the league will enforce the 27-month notice agreement in
its bylaws and not allow Syracuse and Pitt to leave until the 2014-15 academic year. He also said he expects TCU to join the league in 2012 as previously agreed upon.

"It was a positive meeting," Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti said. "Everybody's committed to going out and recruiting top-level institutions. We will continue to recruit who we've been recruiting."

A source with direct knowledge of the meeting told ESPN.com's Andy Katz that UConn didn't commit to remain in the league and is still actively pursuing membership in the ACC.

UConn president Susan Herbst addressed her school's future in a statement released Wednesday.

"The past several days have magnified the period of instability that exists today in the world of college athletics. I want to say thank you to all of our loyal supporters and fans of UConn and our athletic programs for their patience during this time," she said. "Please know that we will always do what is in the best interests for the University of Connecticut."

West Virginia won't be leaving for the ACC or SEC after overtures were rejected by both conferences, according to a report on CBSSports.com. The Mountaineers explored the potential of a move to either the ACC or SEC, but school officials told the Big East they were denied and would remain in the Big East, according to the report.

West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck commented on Tuesday night's Big East meeting in a statement released Wednesday.

"The group concluded the meeting with a strategy to recruit top level BCS-caliber institutions that match the league's strong athletic and academic histories and traditions," Lucks said. "As I stated before, WVU is an excellent flagship, land-grant university, with national-caliber athletic and academic programs. We are, and will remain, a national player in college athletics. The conference office will coordinate any further discussion on this issue."

Villanova, a Colonial Athletic Association team in football that won the FCS championship in 2009, wants to be considered as a candidate for the Big East, according to a source. The Wildcats already are in the Big East in basketball.

But the source said that with the Big 12 likely staying intact, at least nine schools other than the Huskies may have to wait for the ACC to decide if it will add two more schools to extend the league's membership to 16.

"The ACC is the preferred place for (Connecticut)," the source said. "That hasn't changed."

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday he doesn't foresee involvement from congressional leaders in current issues facing college athletics.

"I don't think the universities need any advice from Congress about how to run their business," McConnell, a Louisville alumnus, told ESPN.com's Pat Forde. "I have concerns about it, but I'm not an expert on why the universities are doing what they're doing. I assume it is in their own best interests. From a fan perspective, it is a little perplexing. I don't know what's going to happen to traditional rivalries when they're traveling thousands of miles to play."

Information from ESPN.com senior writers Andy Katz and Pat Forde, ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad and The Associated Press was used in this report.