College sports' worst-kept secret is now official, as the Big East's football-driven expansion is finally underway. Central Florida, Houston, and SMU are moving from Conference USA for all sports, while Boise State and San Diego State are joining up for football only, all in time for the 2013-14 academic year.
Now the fun is ready to begin again...
First off, we're still wondering how many teams will actually be in the Big East for 2012-13 and 2013-14. Commissioner John Marinnato intends on holding departing schools Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and West Virginia to the league's 27-month exit notification requirement. So, it looks like the status quo for 2012-13--eight teams in football and 16 in the majority of other sports. In 2013-14, however, the number of Big East football schools will temporarily balloon to 13, with a whopping 19 teams participating in sports like men's and women's basketball.
Yet the Big East has a fairly significant issue to resolve by the time the 2014 football season rolls around, as Pitt, Syracuse, and West Virginia will then be free to go. At that point, the conference will need to find two more football teams to get back up to 12, the number necessary to hold a conference championship game. If the Big East brain trust doesn't do that, a likely 2013 game will be a one-off. The two likeliest candidates to jump in, Navy and Air Force, haven't signed up yet. The Midshipmen aren't likely to join until 2014, thanks to full schedules for the next two seasons. One factor that may ease a potential Naval Academy move is that the majority of its sports play in the Patriot League, which sponsors FCS football. Air Force isn't so lucky, as it won't be able to continue its Mountain West membership if it moves football to the Big East. This is a significant obstacle for USAFA's administrators, who are leaning toward saying "No." If Air Force decides not to go, then Navy may follow the lead of its Commander-in-Chief's Trophy rival and stay behind as well. That would leave the Big East scrambling, with Temple an option.
The two schools who did jump for football only, Boise State and San Diego State, appear to have found homes for their other sports. The Broncos are heading back to the WAC, which could potentially lose both Utah State (Salt Lake Tribune) and San Jose State (San Jose Mercury-News) to the Mountain West, which by the way could merge outright with what's left of Conference USA. The move reunites the Broncos with their in-state rivals Idaho, a move that I'm sure will please both fanbases tremendously (sarcasm).
UPDATE: Here's the Boise State to the WAC release.
The Aztecs, meanwhile, are headed to the Big West Conference. San Diego State was a member of that league between 1969 and 1978, when it was known as the Pacific Coast Athletic Association. From a travel perspective, this is a winning move for the school, as all of the members, save SDSU's former WAC rival Hawai'i, are in-state (hence the nickname "California Bus League"). On the other hand, the move is a step down from a basketball perspective, as Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, and UC Santa Barbara, aren't quite at the level of UNLV and New Mexico. The Aztecs' best hope is for Steve Fisher to turn the program into a more southern, public version of Gonzaga, a program that will increase the level of competition in the conference in the long run. Bob Keisser of the the Long Beach Press-Telegram opines that the Big West needs to seriously contemplate an invitation to a BCS-level football school, thanks to financial and competitive concerns.
Conversely, the San Diego Union-Tribune's Brent Schrotenboer writes that the football move may boost San Diego State's basketball scheduling, as the Big East is willing to guarantee a certain number of non-conference games for the Aztecs each season. However, there would be no guarantee as to who those games would be against, particularly with the Big East's hoops lineup weakened by swapping Pitt, Syracuse, and West Virginia for UCF, Houston, and SMU.
There are still plenty of twists and turns to come in this round of realignment. And don't think the holidays will slow things down. Football season sure didn't.