Big East introduces 5 new schools

Updated: December 8, 2011, 8:28 AM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

The Big East Conference made a business-saving move in officially adding five new members, including football power Boise State, to its membership for the 2013 season.

Conference commissioner John Marinatto announced Wednesday that the Big East would add Houston, SMU and Central Florida out of Conference USA in all sports to replace departing members Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia, while also adding Boise State and San Diego State out of the Mountain West for football only.

Boise State is expected to announce that it will put the rest of its sports in the WAC, according to multiple sources, while San Diego State places its remaining athletic teams in the Big West.

Marinatto said it was a mutual agreement among Boise State and San Diego State for football-only membership, not all sports.

On a conference call Wednesday, Marinatto said the Big East took a "bold and creative step by going West." He said the Big East will have the "single largest media footprint in intercollegiate athletics from coast-to-coast in football," and that the Big East "will be the first truly national football conference."

Marinatto said the Big East, which won't change its name, will be divided into two divisions in football in an East and West format, but the makeup of the divisions hasn't been officially decided.

One of the lures for getting Boise State and San Diego State for television purposes was to be able to have four football games in four different time zones on a Saturday "back-to-back-to-back-to-back," Marinatto said.

"We have five new marketplaces and will boost our television market up to six percent up to 28 million households," Marinatto said. "We'll have four different time zones. It's a powerful model unmatched by any other conference."

Big East spokesperson John Paquette told ESPN.com later Wednesday that the conference wouldn't release the entrance fee for the five schools as a matter of policy.

Meanwhile, Marinatto said the conference is still determined to hold the three departing schools to the Big East bylaw that each signed and helped craft, especially Pitt, when it was the chair of the conference board, to a 27-month departure. That would mean the three schools couldn't leave until the fall of 2014.

Pitt and Syracuse are joining the ACC and haven't pushed to leave early. ACC commissioner John Swofford told ESPN.com in October that his conference was prepared to add the schools at any point over the next three seasons but would respect the Big East bylaws.

West Virginia and the Big 12 have said they expect the Mountaineers to play in the Big 12 in the fall of 2012 and went as far as to put out a release that had the Big 12 membership with the Mountaineers listed as a member in 2012. West Virginia and the Big East have filed lawsuits against each other on the matter.

Marinatto said he is prepared to have Syracuse, Pitt, West Virginia and the five new members with the remaining schools... all in the Big East in 2013. That would mean in men's and women's basketball there would be 19 members and 13 schools in football.

"This will have no impact on the schools to fulfill the 27-month requirement in the bylaws," Marinatto said. "It's simply a matter of respecting the bylaws since they were part of writing the bylaws. There is an agreement amongst our schools that any early departure would do damage to the schools remaining and two of our schools indicated that they respected that process."

TCU, which committed to be member of the Big East but withdrew and replaced Texas A&M in the Big 12, wasn't subject to the bylaws since it wasn't a member yet, Marinatto said.

Marinatto said he is prepared to have Syracuse, Pitt, West Virginia and the five new members with the remaining schools: Connecticut, Rutgers, Cincinnati, South Florida, Louisville and non-football Big East members Notre Dame, Villanova, Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall, Providence, DePaul and Marquette all in the Big East in 2013. That would mean in men's and women's basketball there would be 19 members and 13 schools in football.

The Big East hasn't gone over a scheduling format for either number but Marinatto said if the SEC can figure out a way to schedule 13 schools in football -- as it was planning before the addition of Missouri as the SEC's 14th team -- then the Big East can do the same.

Marinatto said he would like to get to a point where the Big East gets up to 12-football playing members rather than the 10 that are slated to be playing the sport for now in 2014 -- minus West Virginia, Syracuse and Pitt.

Marinatto wouldn't name the additional schools, but said the Big East remains in discussions with other members. Multiple sources said Navy is one of those schools still being discussed as a football-only possible member.

Air Force Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould said he recently spoke with Marinatto and informed him of the school's intention to remain in the Mountain West, out of loyalty to the league and keeping alive traditional rivalries with teams such as Colorado State.

In this ever-changing landscape of college football, Gould said this decision sends an "important statement." He also said, "We belong out West and for now that's where we're going to stay."

Marinatto said he'd like to see a football championship game at some point in Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, akin to the Big East basketball tournament in Madison Square Garden.

The basketball additions of Houston, SMU and Central Florida will ultimately replace national programs Pitt, Syracuse and West Virginia in the Big East. Louisville coach Rick Pitino had been outspoken that he wanted the league to add Memphis and Temple for all sports, two programs that have traditionally strong basketball schools.

Marinatto wouldn't discuss any other potential members and Temple remains a possibility if the league goes to 12 football playing schools. Temple was once a football-only member in the Big East and now plays football in the MAC with the rest of its teams in the Atlantic 10.

"The three new schools have a strong commitment in basketball with accomplished head coaches in major media markets," said Marinatto of SMU's Matt Doherty, Houston's James Dickey and Central Florida's Donnie Jones. Jones was just suspended by UCF for the first three games of the Conference USA season for a rules violation. "When our league has expanded the schools didn't necessarily come with great basketball programs. When Pitt joined our league the program wasn't what it was today. Miami wasn't what it was. We've had a history of elevating the level to our league because of the assets we provide. We don't expect this to be any different than in the past."

Marinatto also said that there is an agreement for the remaining basketball members to play nonconference games against Boise State and San Diego State in men's basketball. But he said it was premature to determine how it would be determined who would play in those games and how often.

San Diego State president Elliot Hirshman said, "We can't wait for 2013, bring it on."

Meanwhile, Boise State president Robert Kustra said the Broncos' inability to get into the BCS on a consistent basis was a reason to join the Big East, which will have an automatic qualification for the BCS for the next two seasons. Marinatto said he anticipates that this move enhances the Big East's BCS standing, though there is still no guarantee that the BCS will stay the same as it is currently structured since it could go to a system where conference affiliation isn't a determining factor for garnering a berth in the national championship game or a possible plus-one format. Individual teams may get those berths based on their own merit, regardless of conference.

"We've made the commitment to the Big East," Kustra said. "I like the idea of introducing Boise State's brand of football East of the Mississippi. This will be the only conference in four time zones from coast-to-coast. That is very appealing to us. We intend to stay."

Getting more television exposure in the Big East, which has a football contract with ESPN/ABC and a basketball contract with ESPN/ABC and CBS, was a motivating factor for Boise State, as well, instead of the current MWC deal with the MountainWest Sports Network and Versus.

"We're excited about the access and exposure," Kustra said.

In September 2012, the Big East will enter an exclusive 60-day negotiating period with its current television partners before any new suitors can try to get the Big East contract, Marinatto said.

Television and the BCS were two of the deciding factors for Boise State.

"There's no question we've been frustrated over the recent years with the BCS," Kustra said. "That's why I'm on this teleconference."

The departures of Boise State and San Diego State from the MWC and Houston, SMU and Central Florida exiting Conference USA has made the two leagues look at a possible merger, according to multiple sources. The two leagues announced a football partnership of scheduling and a championship game earlier in the fall, but now that the two leagues have lost a combined five schools they may look at a full merger.

Nevada and Fresno State join the MWC in all sports in 2012 with Hawaii being added for football only. The Rainbow Warriors will put the rest of its sports in the Big West. C-USA doesn't have any additions coming at this juncture.

Andy Katz covers college sports for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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