- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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I am afraid the internet will collapse with all the e-mails I've been receiving about Big East expansion.
I asked for your thoughts, and you have certainly responded. I want to get to as many questions and ideas as possible, so I thought I'd do a special Thursday edition of the mailbag focusing just on expansion. (Also, check out my chat transcript from Wednesday for more expansion-related questions and answers). We can talk about it some more in the Friday mailbag if there are new questions, though I'd like to use that space for more current football-related issues.
Here is a list of the many suggestions I've received for new Big East members: TCU, Villanova, Central Florida, Notre Dame, Boston College, Houston, ECU, Temple, UMass, Florida Atlantic, Georgetown, Army, Navy, Appalachian State, Tulane, Boise State, BYU, New Hampshire, UAB, Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State, Delaware, Southern Miss, Tulsa, Arkansas State, Miami of Ohio, Northern Illinois, James Madison, Vanderbilt, Marshall, Buffalo, Troy, SMU, Old Dominion.
Whew. Did we miss anybody? Oh, yeah. Memphis. Not one single vote for the Tigers out of a couple hundred e-mails. Good times.
Anyway, let the expansion e-mail madness begin.
Richard D. from Manteo, N.C., writes: Don't understand the omission of East Carolina University. They are back to back champions in C-USA, have a 50,000 seat stadium, fans travel well and have upgraded all of the Olympic sports facilities. Why did you not include them on your list?
Brian Bennett: I got a lot of e-mails from ECU fans chastising me for not having the Pirates as serious candidates. I think ECU would be a great addition to the league, that the team would compete right away and that its fan base is maybe the best and most passionate one the Big East can add. However, so much of this expansion is going to revolve around markets and big cities. That's what the league is trying to promote as it looks to build a possible Big East Network and/or renegotiate its TV rights in 2012. Unfortunately for ECU, it's not located in a big city -- and though some fans try to sell the proximity to the Research Triangle area, we all know that's ACC country.
I'm in no way opposing ECU. I'm just telling you what I'm hearing from Big East officials, and they're saying ECU is not high on the list right now.
John from Saylorsburg, Pa., writes: After thinking about this for a couple of days and reading material that other people commented, I think the Big East should add three teams instead of two. TCU should be added first. Then one team from ECU,UCF or Houston. They should be scheduled for 2012. Then in 2013 add Nova. This gives Nova two years to recruit and decide where they want to play. If a team gets grabbed by Big Ten, Big East still has 10 teams. If not, so what, the Big Ten had 11 teams for years and they were just fine.
Brian Bennett: Keep in mind that if Villanova decided this afternoon to join the Big East, it could not meet FBS requirements until 2013 at the earliest. So it's not a bad idea for the Big East to add two other teams immediately as it waits for Villanova to make its move and figure out its issues. Plus, then we could use a Spinal Tap-inspired slogan for the Big East: "This one goes to 11."
Bradley from Little Birch, W. Va., writes: I think the Big East needs to offer an ultimatum to the basketball only schools like Notre Dame and 'Nova. If they don't want to be all in like WVU and Pitt and Syracuse etc then they need to walk.
Brian Bennett: I think sometimes people get a little confused at what the "Big East" really is. It's not some outside organization that can tell the schools what to do. The league office works for the member schools. So the other presidents and athletic directors would have to agree and vote on whether to kick schools out of the league, and at this time there's zero sentiment for it (despite the disastrous, failed experiment that DePaul continues to be).
As for the tired subject of a Notre Dame "ultimatum," it's just farcical. The Irish cherish their independence and national scheduling and aren't playing Big East football anytime soon. Notre Dame brings value to the league in many areas, and imagine what the school's name brand will do for marketing purposes if there's ever indeed a Big East Network.
Adam from Pittsburgh writes: I have to say that I am thoroughly underwhelmed by BE expansion candidates. I know that the ADs wanted this for scheduling, but I think this will lower the value for fans. For example: this year Pitt played five nonconference games: Utah, New Hampshire, Miami, Florida Int'l, and Notre Dame. I realize that schedule didn't go well for Pitt this year, but if they add two league games then which two of those five games will disappear? My guess is Utah and Miami. Our replacements? No matter who joins the BE, it won't be that good of a draw. .. If we have 5 conference road games in a season then we're going to continue to see FCS teams.
Brian Bennett: Scheduling will be an fascinating issue to watch if the league does go to nine conference games. I would think the best way to schedule the three remaining, nonconference games would be: one FCS opponent (that's not going away; schools love the "guaranteed" victory and home game); one decent mid-major type FBS team; and one BCS team. Of course, not all schools are going to schedule as aggressively as others -- ahem -- but some will like to take on name opponents for the spotlight.
The other thing to consider is that this appears to be the wave of the future. The Pac-10 (soon to be Pac-12) already plays nine league games, and the Big 10 and Big 12 look to be going the same route. At least you know you'll have nine interesting games, and schools can save money and headaches on what are becoming outrageously expensive guarantees for nonconference opponents.
Chris from Wallingford, Conn. writes: If the Big East wants to make the biggest splash, they might invite TCU and Houston as a package deal. I like TCU and think they could add a lot to the football side, but by themselves, they're on an island. At least with Houston they bring a running mate and natural rival. If they don't decide to go deep into the heart of Texas, I like UCF and Navy. UCF to me seems like a no brainer. Great facilities, big school with plenty of room for growth, and it all but guarantees a yearly trip for every team into the recruiting hotbed of Florida. I'd gladly deal with the extra competition for recruits. I think Navy adds value and tradition to the league from a football perspective. I don't like 'Nova or Temple and the quicker the league forgets about the Philly market the better. It's simply not a college football town.
Brian Bennett: I think you can pretty much scratch Houston off the list for now. The Cougars simply don't have the fan support, and the teams in the Big East that were in Conference USA with them remember playing in front of embarrassingly low crowds at Robertson Stadium. The league looked into the service academies several years ago and decided it wasn't a great fit. Besides, Navy can play a national schedule and get its own bowl tie-in; the Midshipmen don't benefit a whole lot from the Big East.
You make a good point about Philly; the Big East likes to brag about being in big cities, but in so many cases, the league program in that city is nowhere near the top sports draw. That won't change with TCU (Dallas-Forth Worth) or UCF (Orlando), either.
Allen from Los Angeles writes: You said, "no other current BCS conference school is abandoning ship for the Big East." This year, I agree, but what about a sinking ship in a few years? Who doesn't at least have doubts about the survival of the current Big 12 setup? The number 10 makes sense if you are looking ahead to 2015 to pick up a few teams when that conference implodes.
Brian Bennett: It's possible, which is another reason why expanding only to 10 now makes sense. There's no financial incentive right now for a team like Boston College or Kansas to jump to the Big East, because the conference those respective schools are in have much bigger TV contracts and more revenue to hand out. However, if the Big East can strengthen itself, perhaps start its own network and get the cash flowing in after its current deal expires in 2012, then maybe the league will be in a better position to compete with the other BCS conferences. And maybe the Big East will look more appealing to those type of schools.
It's a long shot, but at least the league is giving it a shot.