East Carolina applies to join Big East

East Carolina of Conference USA announced on Wednesday it has applied for membership to the Big East Conference.

"While we have formalized our interest in Big East Conference membership as a viable option, ECU will remain focused on competing at the highest level through the efforts of Conference USA," chancellor Steve Ballard and athletic director Terry Holland said in a statement.

The Big East is regrouping after Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced they would depart to join the Atlantic Coast Conference.

A source told ESPN's Joe Schad on Tuesday 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.

The Associated Press, citing a person with knowledge of the discussions, reported Wednesday that Navy and Air Force are the top choices, but as football-only members. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the conference does not want to publicly disclose its plans.

Navy is an independent and Air Force plays in the Mountain West Conference.

Leaders from the Big East football schools and TCU, which enters the league in 2012, met with commissioner John Marinatto in New York on Tuesday night. All of the league's members, including the eight nonfootball-playing schools, committed to recruit new members.

But the league's status is still less than stable, especially with another piece of the realignment puzzle missing.

Once Texas A&M makes a clean break from the Big 12, the Southeastern Conference will be at 13 teams, and likely looking for a 14th. Missouri seemed a candidate, but Big 12 officials are working to preserve their conference.

There has been speculation the SEC could consider West Virginia of the Big East as the 14th school.

"As I stated before, WVU is an excellent flagship, land-grant university, with national-caliber athletic and academic programs," West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck said in a statement Wednesday. "We are, and will remain, a national player in college athletics."

There also has to be concern in the Big East that the ACC could come back for more of its members.

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

UConn president Susan Herbst addressed her school's future 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," Herbst said in a statement. "Please know that we will always do what is in the best interests for the University of Connecticut."

Luck, speaking on Tuesday night's Big East meeting, said "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. "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 a basketball member of the conference.

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 (UConn)," 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.