Big East expansion already doomed?

Expand or die. This is what the Big East has come down to.

OK, so maybe that's pushing the issue a little bit. But TCU's invitation to the Big 12 -- which everyone involved probably saw coming at least a week ago -- rips another football-heavy member from the Big East's grasp. Pittsburgh and Syracuse are gone. Connecticut is doing its best to join them.

Now the Big East membership is dialing into conference calls, discussing ways to expand the conference further. I hate to say it, but all of these options look pretty ugly:

Big East leaders discussed expansion Friday and the expected loss of TCU, but no decisions were made on which schools to invite to the troubled league, two people who took part in the conference call told The Associated Press. [...]

Air Force, which is in the Mountain West Conference, and Navy, an independent in football, have been at the top of the Big East's wish list as football-only members, but one of the people who spoke to the AP said those two schools were cautious about joining a league that seems so unsettled.

East Carolina has announced that it applied for membership to the Big East, and fellow Conference USA members Central Florida and Memphis have long been looking to join a conference with an automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series. Temple, which was pushed out of the Big East in 2005 and joined the Mid-American Conference in 2007, also has been mentioned as a possible candidate to rejoin the Big East.

These options are not noteworthy in and of themselves; they're the same schools many have discussed since Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced their departures from the Big East weeks ago. But that's what's noteworthy here: There are no new options. The service academies are the top candidates, and they're not even sure they want to join up. East Carolina, Central Florida and Memphis are hardly thrilling additions. I guess Memphis basketball would be a nice addition, but the Big East doesn't need basketball programs. It needs football.

If this is the best it can do, maybe cutting the football losses and becoming a hybrid basketball-only conference is the path of most likely survival. As the South Park guys wrote Wednesday night, sometimes the only way forward is to take a big left turn. I'm not sure how the Big East does that, exactly, but I do know this: If your hopes are pinned on two service academies -- service academies that look at you skeptically anyway -- it's time to start thinking outside the box.