(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
A lot of recent reports were circulating on the eastern seaboard this week centering on a rumor that the Big East is eye-balling both Army and Navy for expansion. The big question is, will the two service academies bite? According to sources, the Big East has offered Army and Navy a concept that would allow each of the service academies to play four Big East opponents each season on a rotating basis.
Forget Villanova, baby! And UCF who? In addition to Army and Navy, the Big East has also continued to hang around the Notre Dame offices, looking longingly at the girl they REALLY want to take to the dance. But that won't happen because the Irish are an entrenched and highly successful independent program with a superfine NBC television gig to keep them happy.
But guess who else's name is popping up in the BE conversation besides Army and Navy? Temple, of the Mid-American Conference, if you can believe what the Owl football coaches are telling their new recruits. Reports as far away as Florida are saying that Temple will be the 10th member of the Big East in 2012. That might be big news to the Big East, who have not even issued the MAC school an invite yet.
With the deadline for conference expansion coming up fast, the Big East wants to get schools on board and ready for conference play in 2012. TCU gives them 9 teams, Army and Navy could get them to 11. But if Temple is their choice for a 12th team, they might have to wait until 2013 to get to an even dozen because the MAC has a contract with Temple that could hold them for a two-year minimum in their conference before being allowed to leave.
So its no surprise that Big East expansion is once again a continuing news item in the eastern presses right now because of the 2012 expansion deadline. Expansion, by the way, is also why Big East commissioner John Marinatto says a decision on adding teams needs to be made before the next ESPN TV deal is negotiated, which is presently on hold until September.
What are the chances the Big East will get Army and Navy? This isn't the first time the Big East has asked Navy to join their conference. In 2003 the team was approached by not only the Big East, but C-USA and the MAC before deciding they wanted to remain independent. This time, at least initially, both military teams once again rejected the Big East, mainly because they are both established solidly as independents. But now we hear that could change. The word is, they are at least listening---or they were up until recently. One Big East source is now stating those talks have ended and at present no plans are in the works for an invite to either military school.
Maybe so. The Army Black Knights spent six years (1998-2004) as a member of Conference USA and it went badly, going 13-67. Others are quick to point out that Army would be very hesitant to join another conference again. The cadets are just now starting to get better---last year they went to a bowl game for the first time since 1996. That raises the question as to why they would want to go back to being a doormat for a conference that is even stronger than C-USA.
And Navy? They have always been an independant. Besides, their contract with CBS Sports College Network runs through 2018. They play a national schedule that includes yearly games with Notre Dame that has been ongoing since 1927, and yearly showdowns with Air Force and Army. On the other side of the arguement is that scheduling can be tough at times; both services find it hard to find quality opponents during conference play, and especailly after mid-season. Plus they would earn more money in a BCS league.
But frankly, it would take one heck of an offer by the Big East to lure either Army or Navy into their conference. Money talks, even for the military. And survival. Whatever the two do, they will be weighing their futures on the FBS level and do what makes the best sense for their teams. For schools in their position today, being independent makes sense, but it may not make sense tomorrow.
Right now the Big East need teams that could keep them a relevant contender in the coming years as a ligit BCS league. In the 2008 evaluation they needed a waiver to keep their status---inspite of the additions of Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida. And now, four years later, they are almost back to square one. Even with the addition of powerhouse TCU next year they could remain a borderline conference. And one more embarrasing trip to a BCS bowl with an 8-5 team like Connecticut did last year might be just enough for the BCS guru's to say enough. The BCS powers are already under congressional threat and public skepticism in trying to defend the fairness of the BCS system.
Last month college football sources stated the league could would like to get to 12 teams, but if the approach to Navy and Army as football-only members was rebuffed, the league's best approach would be to get to a 10-team league. Temple could do that and bring a big piece of the Philadelphia market with them---but maybe not until 2013. The other expansion candidates whose names are being floated as as possible expansion candidates are the ususal suspects---East Carolina, Houston, UCF and Villanova---not the top-25 teams you need going forward, but they could help make the conference look more like a BCS-type league. If Army and Navy say no, and Temple is tied up for two years, then the Big East will be back at square one where they were after the TCU invite. They will still want teams who can help with BCS numbers going into 1012 and beyond---and the clock is ticking.