Big East plans life without West Virginia

Posted: October 26, 2011

Another week, another step closer to a Big East football implosion.

Tuesday's headline: West Virginia to the Big Twelve is a done deal, replacing Missouri, whose move to the Southeastern Conference is considered a certainty, now in the hands of attorneys.

What's next for the Big East depends mostly on Boise State, Navy and Air Force. (Read that last sentence again slowly . . . it's where we are right now.) If those institutions, part of the Big East's proposed football expansion model, decide a Big East without the Mountaineers isn't worth being in, then the Big East may not hold together as a football league, or it may be forced to go to a couple of lesser leagues, hat in hand, looking to join a mega-merger, which would result in mega-yawns and mega-scowls and mega-jokes nationwide.

No one school can replace West Virginia's football program. This is a massive hit for the Big East. Right now, the league could invite Temple for football-only. Big East schools also could override the objections of Villanova and invite the Owls for all sports. They also could come up with Option C, which is invite Temple for all sports and tell Villanova it has a one-year open invitation - or an invite for some kind of time period - to join for football.

Option C would be the something-for-everybody plan I had originally expected the smarter Big East politicians to come up with, since Big East basketball schools held the most votes. Instead, they chose the Forget Philly option, choosing Central Florida, Houston and SMU for all sports in its latest model.

A highly placed Big East source has informed me several times Villanova wouldn't block Temple for all sports if Temple is a "linchpin" to keeping the league together. Is this now that time? We may find out soon. On the other hand, if the Big East takes another easy right turn and invites, say, East Carolina for all sports to replace West Virginia, then it's obvious once again that nobody in the league has Temple's back, that Villanova's all-sports opposition is far from the only impediment for the Owls.

It's been pointed out to me by Temple fans that Big East commissioner John Marinatto's statement last week that Villanova didn't "disparage" Temple is meaningless, since Villanova's opposition stopped the league from inviting the Owls, no matter the language used. An inarguable point, but people also have to remember that Villanova already is in the league, has made a lot of money for a lot of Big East schools through NCAA basketball tournament appearances, and would like to move up in football if there is enough value in the future Big East television contract. Also, it was the Big East commissioner himself who showed up at Villanova last year asking Villanova's administrators if the school wanted to move up in football.

That said, if we're strictly talking merits, Temple clearly has the better-positioned football program to join the Big East, and has a stronger basketball program than any of the proposed additions.

Right now, Boise State of all places is a huge key to the whole thing. If that school, currently riding high in football, isn't convinced Louisville and Connecticut will be around for the long-term, it may pass on the Big East, not convinced it will be the path to an automatic BCS bid. That may cause Big East basketball schools to decide it is time to forget all this football expansion, that it's time to go back to the league's roots as a conference without football. That clearly is something schools such as Georgetown, Providence and Villanova are loath to do, realizing that football is crucial to the league being in the big-time.

Another key is Notre Dame. Is this the time the Irish decide to move to the ACC or Big Ten for all sports? There also is speculation the Big 12 could consider inviting Notre Dame for all sports except football, that the Irish may consider that if it doesn't like the future prospects of the Big East.

The Big East needs to have its football membership set before this time next year, when the deadline approaches for signing a new TV deal. Losing West Virginia is a huge hit for Big East football and another hit for Big East basketball, after Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced their departure for the Atlantic Coast Conference. ESPN.com reported conference commissioners of the Big East, Mountain West and Conference USA are expected to meet and talk about the possibility of forming a single football entity of 28 to 32 teams.

If it comes to that, Temple needs to be in that league, if the action breaks toward the three-league football merger. It's crucial for the school's long-term athletic survival, especially in football. We'd also guess that the larger league, with different voting blocs, would realize Temple has too strong a hoops program, has come too far in football, is in too large a market, to be left in the cold.

All the Owls would need is for a group of college presidents to study the relevant facts and do the right thing.

What could go wrong?


Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489, mjensen@phillynews.com, or @Jensenoffcampus on Twitter. Read his "Off Campus" columns at www.philly.com/offcampus.

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