Sources: Boise State to Big East
The Big East is set to add Boise State, San Diego State, SMU, UCF and Houston as it begins to rebuild its league, with an announcement expected as early as Wednesday, sources confirmed to ESPN.com.
Boise State and San Diego State of the Mountain West will enter the league as football-only members, while Houston, SMU and UCF, all of Conference USA, will join the Big East for all sports, sources told ESPN.com.
The five schools have been long rumored as candidates to join a battered league that has seen the defections of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, TCU and West Virginia in the last few months, leaving it with five football-playing members.
Navy, a football indepedent, has not yet joined as a football-only member, but is expected to do so once some "loose ends" are ironed out, a source told ESPN.com's Andy Katz.
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The Big East is also hoping to add Air Force as a football-only member, sources told ESPN's Joe Schad. But the entry of Air Force and Navy could be delayed until 2014 or 2015 due to scheduling logistics, the sources said.
"I think what (commissioner) John Marinatto just did, he should get a substantial raise for what he just accomplished," Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino said. "Getting Boise State. Getting Houston, SMU. I think that is as good of a job for a commissioner with his back against the wall as I've seen since I've been in athletics. The teams you lost aren't as good in football as the teams you're bringing in."
The addition of Boise State, San Diego State, SMU, UCF and Houston would come in time for the 2013 season, not only keeping the Big East a viable FBS conference and raising hopes it can hold onto its all-important automatic qualifying status for the Bowl Championship Series.
Boise State is the key to those hopes, as the Broncos have had great success over the past decade as members of the WAC and Mountain West. They have finished in the top 10 of the BCS standings for four straight seasons, better than any other Big East team currently in the fold.
The big reason for Boise State to join a league nearly 3,000 miles away from its location is the Big East's automatic qualifier status. Though the Broncos do have top-10 finishes to their credit, they have only been selected for one BCS game, and have been passed over as an at-large selection as an undefeated team (2004, 2008) and as a one-loss team (2010, 2011).
San Diego State's program has been on an upswing, with back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since the 1960s. The Aztecs, who entered into the mix once talks between the Big East and BYU broke down, would serve as a travel partner for the Broncos.
"If something like that happens for any football program in this time in college football, if you're able to get into a BCS league, it gives your football program an advantage, but it also gives your whole athletic department an advantage," San Diego State coach Rocky Long said Tuesday.
"There's obviously benefits to everybody in the athletic department, there's all kinds of benefits to doing something like that. We would be OK with anything that allows us to get into a BCS conference," Long said.
UCF finished in the top 25 of the BCS standings last season and would be an immediate rival for USF, while also giving the Big East a second market in Florida for recruiting as well as television.
Houston nearly made a BCS game this season and should finish ranked in the Top 25. SMU also has done well with June Jones in charge. Those two schools add big media markets and recruiting areas in Texas, making up for the loss of TCU, which decided to bolt for the Big 12 once the Big East's future appeared shaky.
The additions also give the league members in all four continental U.S. time zones. But despite that, the Big East is not expected to consider a name change, because of the brand equity it has already established, sources told Schad.
The ultimate goal for the Big East is to get to 12 teams with an East-West divisional structure. Until that happens, the Big East will not have divisions.
Syracuse and Pitt started the defections in September, announcing they were moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference. TCU then announced it would join the Big 12 instead and West Virginia followed.
The Mountaineers are hoping to join the Big 12 in time for the 2012 season but are currently embroiled in multiple lawsuits with the Big East over those plans. The conference has sued West Virginia, demanding it stay in the league for the 27-month waiting period as required by conference bylaws. And West Virginia has sued the Big East, arguing those laws were invalidated when the league began losing members.
The expansion announcement should come as welcome relief to the football-playing members still on board -- Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers and USF. But questions still remain about the league's long-term football prospects should another round of conference moves take place, as UConn, Louisville and Rutgers have made overtures to other conferences.
Outside of football, the issue for Boise State and San Diego State remains where to put the rest of their sports, mainly men's basketball. The Aztecs were highly ranked in the men's Top 25 much of last season and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
Multiple sources said that the Big West and the WAC are the most likely suitors for Boise State and San Diego State, instead of the WCC or the Big Sky. The MWC won't allow schools to join without football.
But there is a strong chance that Boise and SDSU could be in different leagues, with the WAC possibly more viable for Boise State -- where in-state rival Idaho plays -- and the Big West more likely for the Aztecs.
The Big East, which has thrived for years as one of the nation's best basketball leagues, has seven schools that do not play football at the FBS level: Providence, St. John's, Georgetown, Marquette, DePaul, Seton Hall and Villanova. Notre Dame is a football independent, but plays all other sports in the Big East.
"The Big East has been the No. 1 conference in all of basketball, obviously, by the amount of bids," Pitino said. "Now, have you made basketball stronger? No. You're not replacing Syracuse and Pittsburgh, so my hope is that they'll go out there and get a Temple or a Memphis to keep basketball strong."
Andrea Adelson writes about the Big East for ESPN.com. Information from ESPN.com writers Mark Schlabach and Andy Katz, ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad and The Associated Press was used in this report.