Navy to play Big East football in 2015

Updated: January 24, 2012, 9:39 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Navy has accepted an invitation to play football in the Big East, starting in 2015.

"Stability in the Big East was a very important aspect in our discussions with the commissioner," Vice Admiral Michael Miller, superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, said during a teleconference. "What we see is a very bright future for the conference."

Navy has been playing football as an independent since 1879, but academy officials said they believe that model will be too difficult to maintain as other powerful conferences grow. Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said scheduling games late in the season, landing desirable television deals and securing bowl bids will become a problem in the near future.

"Opportunities to exist as independents into the future are clearly in jeopardy," he said.

Gladchuk said Navy and the Big East have been talking about the Midshipmen joining the league for a decade, but those talks got serious about a year ago -- before the Big East was beset by defections.

"It's a marriage our membership has longed for for many, many years," Big East commissioner John Marinatto said.

Navy football has been thriving over the last decade. The Midshipmen played in eight straight bowl games before slipping to 5-7 this season and have won a record 10 straight games against rival Army. But Navy's schedule will get tougher playing in the Big East, while keeping its rivalry games against Army, Air Force and Notre Dame.

"We have a definite challenge ahead of us," coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "I feel like there's drift happening between the haves and havenots (in major college football), and I want to be with the haves."

Gladchuk said the Big East will allow Navy to maintain its annual rivalries with Army, Air Force and Notre Dame, and that the Army-Navy game will still be the season finale for both teams, regardless of when a future Big East championship game is played.

"The Army-Navy game remains on that second Saturday in December," he said.

Gladchuk also said that Navy's television deals with CBS and CBS Sports Network had to be accommodated by the Big East.

"Partnership with CBS was one of the reasons this agreement took a little time to finalize," he said.

CBS owns the TV rights to the Army-Navy game and Navy's home games against Notre Dame through 2018. Navy has a separate deal with CBS Sports Network for the TV rights to its other home games that runs through 2017.

"We have a great relationship with the academies, and our deals will be grandfathered for the length of our contracts" said Mike Aresco, executive vice president for programming at CBS Sports.

The Big East's current TV deals run through the 2013 football season. The league is hoping to land a new deal similar to the long-term, billion dollar contracts signed last year by the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Pac-12. The Big East needs to know its lineup beyond 2013 before it can negotiate with a television network.

The Big East, hit by the departures of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC, and TCU and West Virginia to the Big 12, will add Boise State and San Diego State for football and SMU, Central Florida and Houston for all sports, starting in 2013.

"That Navy would give up 100 years of football independence speaks to the long-term viability of the Big East," Marinatto said.

Marinatto would like to get the conference to 12 football-playing schools, which would allow it to play a conference championship game.

When West Virginia departs and the new members begin play, the conference will have 11 members with football programs.

West Virginia has sued the Big East in order to be able to join the Big 12 for the 2012 season. The Big East has countersued West Virginia in an attempt to force the school to abide by the conference bylaw requiring schools to wait 27 months before leaving.

Marinatto said adding Navy does not affect those lawsuits, though as part of a previous agreement between Big East presidents, the addition of the service academy causes the withdrawal fee for current members of the conference to double to $10 million.

A judge in Rhode Island has ordered the Big East and West Virginia into non-binding mediation in an attempt to resolve their lawsuits.

Pitt, Syracuse and the ACC have said they will not challenge the Big East bylaws, though West Virginia's situation could change that.

TCU was slated to join the Big East next season, but backed out when it was invited to the Big 12.

The Big East has seven members that don't play FBS football: St. John's, Seton Hall, Villanova, Georgetown, DePaul, Marquette and Providence. Notre Dame is a football independent but plays other sports (except ice hockey) in the Big East.

ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad and The Associated Press contributed to this report.