- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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The remaining Big East schools have vowed to stay together to help rebuild the conference following the stunning defections of Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC. At least that is what commissioner John Marinatto says.
Marinatto told ESPN's Joe Schad that he plans to be aggressive in rebuilding the conference, though where that takes the league remains unclear. Representatives from all seven remaining football-playing schools met in New York on Tuesday night to discuss the future, and Marinatto said everybody pledged a commitment to stay despite speculation that a few have their eye on the door.
A merger with the Big 12 now seems unlikely with the news that the Pac-12 will not expand. That means Oklahoma and Texas have no choice but to remain in the Big 12 and hold it together, with at least one new school to replace outgoing Texas A&M.
That leaves the Big East potentially looking at Navy, Army, Air Force, Central Florida and East Carolina as options for expansion. But there are major questions that remain:
Can each remaining Big East football school be held at their word? Reports have surfaced that Rutgers and UConn have made overtures to the ACC. Andy Katz of ESPN.com reports that UConn still is actively pursuing membership into that conference. Syracuse and Pitt blindsided the Big East with their departures. Meanwhile, the Big 12 could have interest in adding Louisville. The Mountain West has reached out to TCU to gauge any interest in re-joining the league. Would it be so surprising if one of these remaining league teams broke its word and moved on in the interest of self-preservation?
Can the Big East retain AQ status? The potential candidates would do nothing to enhance the quest to remain an automatic qualifier when considerations are made following this cycle, which ends after the 2013 season. Granted, Pitt has made one BCS game and Syracuse made one back in 1998. Navy, Air Force, UCF and East Carolina have had a run of recent success but how do they enhance the Big East?
What happens with a future media-rights deal? Certainly the service academies bring viewers -- both Army and Navy have their own television deals as independents -- UCF brings another market in Orlando and East Carolina has the Raleigh area and a committed, rabid fan base. How does all this go into calculating a new deal with Syracuse and Pitt out of the picture?
Would Army and Navy be willing to give up independent status to be football-only members of the Big East? This still is a huge question for me. Navy always has been independent. Army was a member of Conference USA from 1998-2004 with disastrous results, going 13-67. The service academies are in a unique spot because they recruit nationally and they like to play national games. Their players also are vastly different to those that play in bigger conferences. Air Force has made conference affiliation work, so it can be done. This move may be more about finding a place for future survival.