Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NCAA [Print without images]

Friday, October 7, 2011
Report: No Big East invitations yet

ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Big East leaders held a conference call Friday to talk about expansion 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 call told The Associated Press that no invitations were imminent because the university presidents, chancellors and athletic directors who took part in the call with commissioner John Marinatto wanted more information about the schools being considered.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the Big East did not want its internal discussions made public.

Big East spokesman John Paquette declined to comment.

If TCU leaves for the Big 12, it will owe the Big East a $5 million exit fee. According to a source familiar with the discussion, officials discussed increasing the league's exit fee to dissuade other schools from leaving, The (Newark) Star-Ledger reported Friday.

TCU, which was scheduled to join the Big East in 2012, received an invitation to the Big 12 on Thursday. TCU officials have not officially accepted but that seems little more than a formality.

Syracuse and Pittsburgh already have announced they are leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Big East would be down to six football schools without TCU: West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, Rutgers and Connecticut.

The Big East's non-football members are: DePaul, Marquette, St. John's, Seton Hall, Villanova, Georgetown, Providence and Notre Dame.

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 applied for membership to the Big East, and fellow Conference USA members Central Florida and Memphis long have 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.

Without firm commitments from current Big East members to stay put, Marinatto could have a hard time moving forward.

The governor of Connecticut has said UConn has interest in joining the ACC, and there has been speculation about Rutgers joining if the ACC decided to expand again. The additions of Pitt and Syracuse will give the ACC 14 members, and its commissioner, John Swofford, has said the league is comfortable staying there.

"It was a good conversation and we have some excellent paths to pursue," UConn president Susan Herbst told ESPN.com in an email Friday. "While the ever-changing landscape produces anxiety across the nation, and it's certainly reflected in my in box, I am not concerned about UConn. We are extraordinarily strong on so many dimensions and this is what will serve us well now and into the future. So while we are in deep discussions, we are focused on the fundamentals -- student-athlete academic success, compliance, fund raising, cost containment and winning."

Herbst said there is still time for the Big East to explore all its options. And while Herbst won't say publicly the Huskies are looking for an ACC invitation, a number of sources have told ESPN.com that UConn wants to make the move. But sources said the ACC hasn't decided if it wants to add two more to get to 16. If it does, then it would rather wait to see what Notre Dame would do first before deciding on UConn and/or Rutgers.

The Big East has a 27-month hold on Syracuse and Pitt based on the bylaws, but that could be negotiated down to avoid more than two lame-duck seasons.

"Syracuse and Pitt are with us for a while, and schedules are set across sports," Herbst said. "I understand the worry and the concern, believe me. But we'll act rationally and look at empirical data always. I ask people to give it all some time. We will continue to compete exceedingly well and at the same time, look to the longer term with appropriate thoughtfulness, as best we can."

Meanwhile, a source said the Big East adjusted its sport committee assignments and staff from Syracuse and Pitt were removed and replaced with other members of the Big East.

West Virginia and Louisville have been mentioned as possible targets if the Big 12 adds more schools.

TCU would replace Texas A&M, which is leaving for the Southeastern Conference, and give the Big 12 10 members again. But for how long?

Earlier this week, Missouri announced its intentions to explore a jump to another conference. Missouri could be heading to the SEC, but there's no guarantee that the league wants the Tigers, who actually were coveting a Big Ten invitation, a source told the AP.

Now the Big 12 and the Big East are waiting to see what Missouri does.

If the Tigers stay put, the Big East is less likely to lose additional members.

Notre Dame competes in the Big East in everything except football and wants very much to remain an independent in that sport. But if the Big East were to collapse, that could force the Fighting Irish to join a conference.

Information from ESPN.com's Andy Katz and The Associated Press was used in this report.