Mailbag extra: All expansion, all the time

February, 16, 2010
2/16/10
2:45
PM ET
Hardly a day has gone by since I started writing for this blog in August 2008 that somebody hasn't asked me about Big East expansion.

Most of the talk has just been idle chatter, but there are developments worth noting right now. On the heels of the Big Ten expansion study, the Pac-10 has announced that it will look into the possibility of adding teams. It sure seems as if we're barreling toward the era of the superconferences, with every BCS league except the Big East having a championship game and maybe even as many as 14 to 16 teams.

Even if the Big East avoids losing a team to the Big Ten or some other realignment, it's becoming clear that the league will have to grow in order to maintain its standing in the BCS picture. So let's address some of these issues as we get to some more of your questions:

Richie from West Hartford writes: I was wondering: if the Big East does decide to expand, wouldn't it make sense to get four teams so they can have a conference championship game? Why bother adding less? And if the Big East does expand, where would you start? East Carolina, Central Florida, Marshall? Clearly there are flaws with all teams not currently in a BCS conference, otherwise they would have already been scooped up.

Brian Bennett: Until recently, most of the expansion talk about the Big East revolved around simply adding another team in order to create eight conference games and ease the nonconference scheduling burden. But as noted earlier, if every other league is going to go to a championship game with at least 12 teams, that changes the landscape. It's going to be harder for the Big East to compete with only eight teams, especially as these superleagues make the argument that they each deserve two teams in the BCS. The problem, as you, Richie, mentioned, is that there really isn't even an obvious candidate for the Big East to add just to get to nine members. All of the teams frequently brought up, including Richie's schools, Memphis, Villanova, the service academies and other C-USA outfits, have major question marks.

You could have said the same about Cincinnati and South Florida when they were added to the league, and those schools rose to the challenge. However, adding four schools from lower levels at this point -- or more if a team or two bolted for the Big Ten -- would definitely dilute the product of the Big East in the short term. The league needs to aim higher, which leads into the next question ...


Maher H. from Pittsburgh writes: Regarding expansion, I agree with you that the Big East will have a tough time trying to poach Maryland or Boston College back from the ACC. Can you tell us what exactly the ACC is making in terms of revenue that does put it so far ahead of the Big East?

Brian Bennett: Strictly speaking of TV deals, which seems to be driving the train on expansion as much as anything, the ACC is not really ahead of the Big East in football. The ACC reportedly is in the midst of a seven-year, $258 million TV contract for football, compared to the Big East's current six-year, $200 million deal. And when you slice that up among 12 teams vs. eight teams for the Big East, the ACC really comes out a little behind per school. The ACC, of course, has a championship game, but that's been far from a rousing success. It also has better bowls -- slightly -- and bigger fan bases. I think it would be extremely difficult for the Big East to convince a longstanding ACC team like Maryland to defect, but from a revenue standpoint it's not a giant leap.


Corner Tavern from State of Rutgers writes: Of the Big East teams that could realistically be invited to the Big Ten, in your opinion, which one can the Big East least afford to lose? On the other hand, which would hurt the least? Or is it immaterial, because any all-sports school departure would send the league as we know it into a death spiral.

Brian Bennett: Going from eight teams down to seven (or fewer) would be a huge setback for the Big East, which would have to counter with a bold move to stay relevant. While any defection would obviously hurt, the two realistic possibilities I would see as most damaging are Pittsburgh and Syracuse. The reason is because they are charter members of the football league and two programs that have long been associated with the Big East. They also both have great traditions and name recognition. The image hit alone would be tough to recover from.


Amanda from Morgantown, W. Va. writes: I guess anything is possible with the recent expansion talk in college football. I would like to see the Big East be proactive. I would like to see the league contact Kentucky since anything seems plausible. One, Big East basketball is attractive for Kentucky. Two, Kentucky increases its chances in attaining a BCS bid. Three, the rivalry with Louisville heightens because it becomes a conference game. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: While it definitely would help Kentucky's chances in football -- how would you like to try to beat Florida, Georgia and Tennessee every year in the SEC East -- I don't see it happening. It's all about money, and nobody is hopping off the SEC gravy train without a major incentive. I was talking about TV contracts earlier, and don't forget the SEC has a 15-year, $2.25 billion overall TV contract, which works out to about $11 million per team. That's about $7 million more per year than Big East teams are making.


Jesse from Vernon, Conn., writes: I just read that Texas and the Big 10 are talking about Texas joining the conference. If Texas joins the Big 10, will the Big 10 still look to raid the Big East? If so, could the Big East look to the Big 12 to expand such as Kansas? Kansas would have a lot to gain from joining the Big East especially in basketball. This would prevent having to try to have another Florida team (UCF) in the conference, but would increase the conference's presence in the south.

Brian Bennett: I think Big East fans should root for Texas to join the Big Ten, since that would lessen the chances of a Big East team getting poached -- unless the Big Ten wanted to go to a 14- or 16-team league. Kansas doesn't make sense geographically -- and I don't really think of Kansas as being "the south" -- but I suppose it's time to start thinking in unorthodox terms. Such as ...


Adam from Arlington, Va., writes: I was thinking, what if the Big East and the Mountain West formed an "East/West" Conference. The Big East keeps operating business as usual, the MWC does the same ... and then the winner of the two conferences meet during conference championship weekend? Seems like a pretty cool idea to me and it would answer the question about which conference is stronger. Also, seems like it could guarantee we hold onto the automatic BCS bid. Does this make any sense?

Brian Bennett: Again, it sounds absurd at first glance, but the more we keep talking about the potential for superconferences, the more sense it makes. I actually kind of like this idea, though I would want to see more interaction between the two sides than just in the conference title game. Schedule balance and travel, of course, would be a nightmare. But who wouldn't enjoy competitive conference games against Utah, TCU and BYU? Plus, it gives the Mountain West the seat it so desperately desires at the BCS table (though it could take away a spot from current Big East teams if the "West" side wins the title game). Some of this may just be crazy talk, but the Big East needs to be ready to explore all options as it faces an uncertain future.

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