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Boise bails on Big East

By my count, the Big East has now lost more members than it ever had.

Boise State will remain a member of the Mountain West Conference and will not join the Big East in 2013.

The Broncos’ decision, confirmed in news releases by the the school and Mountain West on Monday, is the latest crippling blow to the Big East Conference, which has had 14 schools announce they were leaving the league in the past two years.

“As I’ve stated many times, I have had the utmost trust that the university would make the right decision in what is best for Bronco football and all our sports at Boise State,” football coach Chris Petersen said in the statement. “This innovative proposal to get football the maximum exposure on national television will be a tremendous boost to our program as we continue to grow the Bronco brand.

The Broncos will remain a Mountain West member in all sports instead of joining the Big East next year as a football-only member and the Big West in all other sports.

“The football programs in the Mountain West Conference continue to get stronger and we look forward to the challenge and competing in a strong league for many years to come,” Peterson said.

Without Boise State plus the announcement that the league’s seven Catholic basketball schools — DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova — are leaving the league, the Big East’s future membership remains in flux.

A source with direct knowledge said there is a tentative in-person meeting of the seven presidents of the departing Catholic Big East schools set for Friday. Discussing exit fees and when to form the new conference are high on the agenda, as well as designating a point person.


The Big East also could lose another member, as San Diego State may return to the Mountain West.

With Boise State remaining in the Mountain West, the Aztecs’ Big East contract allows them to withdraw from the Big East without paying an exit fee if there is no other Big East member located west of the Rocky Mountains.

A Mountain West conference source with knowledge of the situation said San Diego State wants back in the Mountain West, but the league is holding up the process as it decides whether there is a better fit than the Aztecs and if there is a school that can deliver more value.

The source said if SDSU returns to the Mountain West, the Aztecs would have to come back on the conference’s terms.

USA Today thinks that SDSU is likely to wind up back in the MWC, though both stories explore the possibility of the MWC either finding an alternative to SDSU or expanding further; both mention Big-East-for-now members UH and SMU as possible targets for such expansion. I think that unless the MWC is in line for a renewed TV deal – and by the way, Boise State will make out like a bandit on the TV terms they negotiated to return to the MWC – expansion would just mean cutting their existing pie into smaller pieces, and as such I have my doubts. For sure, UH and SMU and all the other Big Easties had better be thinking about their own futures now. They can try one more time to patch the Big East ship, they can come crawling back to C-USA (which would have to eject some newly-recruited replacements to take them back), or they can form their own conference out of Big East refugees and whoever else they can poach. I’m guessing this is probably not the position they thought they’d be in as 2013 dawned. Mean Green Cougar Red has more.

C-USA and and MWC make merger plans official

We knew it was coming.

With their respective leagues being picked apart by the month to fulfill others’ expansion plans, 16 presidents and chancellors from Conference USA and Mountain West Conference met Sunday in Dallas, knowing they needed to do something.

The result is a new league with a wide scope that goes coast-to-coast and beyond.

C-USA and the Mountain West agreed on an athletic association that will combine the remaining members of the two leagues plus three future Mountain West members to form a 16-team conference beginning in the 2013-14 academic year.

The new league, whose name is to be determined, will include Rice. Athletic director Rick Greenspan called it the dawning of an exciting new chapter for the Owls.

“This new conference is one that allows us to retain much of the competitive equity and familiarity we have built up over our seven years in C-USA while also broadening our appeal to an even wider audience,” Greenspan said in a statement. “It will address many of the core concerns that have led others to seek new affiliations and does so without a significant increase in the demands we place on our student-athletes.”

Ultimately, the league’s membership likely will include 18 to 24 schools, with members ranging from the Atlantic seaboard to Hawaii. A football championship format will include semifinals and a final, and there will be a conference basketball tournament.

There’s 16 teams now for football, 15 or possible less for other sports. I’m guessing other schools may affiliate for other sports, but who knows. At least for football, there’s a neat east-west division, with the C-USA schools being in the former and the MWC schools in the latter. That will help with travel costs. I woulcn’t call this the best of all possible worlds, but it’ll do till whatever the next thing is that shakes up the landscape comes along. And the MOB will get to do an Annual Salute To The New Conference show.

Meanwhile, West Virginia has settled its lawsuit with the Big East.

West Virginia will join the Big 12 for the 2012 season after a lawsuit settlement was reached with the Big East, the school and league announced Tuesday.

The Big East Conference board of directors voted to terminate West Virginia’s membership, effective June 30. The vote is conditioned upon WVU fulfilling its obligations under an agreement that resolves the lawsuits between both parties.

West Virginia accepted an invitation in October 2011 to join the Big 12, and sued the Big East in its home state to get out of the league without waiting the required 27 months. The Big East filed its own suit in Rhode Island, seeking to hold West Virginia to the waiting period.

The Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail, citing an anonymous source, has reported that the Big East will receive $20 million in the settlement, with WVU contributing $11 million, and the Big 12 covering the remaining amount.

WVU already has paid half of the normally required $5 million exit fee to the Big East.

As my friend Ellen likes to say, some problems are best solved by swatting them with a checkbook until they die. This was one of them. We’ll see if Syracuse and Pittsburgh will follow West Virginia out the door before their waiting period is up.

Memphis to Big East

It’s what they’ve always wanted.

At long last, Memphis is part of the Big East.

The Tigers officially accepted an invitation to be part of the conference’s next incarnation in 2013, the conference said Wednesday. Memphis is the seventh school, and fourth from Conference USA, to sign up for future membership in the Big East since December. The Tigers will compete in the Big East in all sports.

Memphis has been trying to upgrade its conference affiliation for years, and the Big East was always the most likely landing spot. The Tigers were snubbed during the Big East’s last massive expansion in 2005 and lost a longtime rivalry with Louisville in the process.

Now with the Big East rebuilding again and eventually in need replacements for West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, there was finally room for Memphis.


Memphis gives the Big East 11 football teams committed for the 2013 season, still one short of the 12 needed under NCAA rules to hold a conference championship game — though the league could ask the NCAA for a waiver to play a title game with less than 12 teams. Plus, there’s no guarantee some of the holdovers, such as Louisville, Rutgers and Connecticut, won’t jump at the chance to join another league if the opportunity comes up.

And it’s still unclear when West Virginia, Pitt and Syracuse will leave. Big East bylaws require a 27-month notification period for schools that want to leave and commissioner John Marinatto has said he intends to make the departing schools honor that. West Virginia has filed a lawsuit to begin competing in the Big 12 in the fall. The Big East has countersued and Pitt and Syracuse are watching the cases closely as it could determine when they start playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

It’s possible the Big East could have 14 football teams and 20 basketball teams in 2013.

Good luck planning the 2013 schedule. I kind of suspect that the current litigation will reach a settlement of some kind before then. Be that as it may, I don’t think this changes that much. The Big East is still an odd, geographically-disparate assortment of schools that is now stronger in basketball but not football.

As for the conference Memphis is leaving behind, the pending CUSA/MWC merger is still on.

Conference USA’s board of directors will meet later this week to discuss the possibility of a full-scale merger with the Mountain West Conference, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

The prospect of a merger was already on the meeting agenda, even before C-USA member Memphis was on the verge of joining the Big East, the source said.


In the past year, C-USA members Houston, SMU and Central Florida accepted invitations to join the Big East in 2013-14.

That, along with Memphis’ pending departure, would leave C-USA with eight members: Southern Miss, Tulsa, Marshall, Rice, UAB, Tulane, East Carolina and UTEP.

The Mountain West is adding Nevada and Fresno State from the Western Athletic Conference for all sports and Hawaii in football. But the MWC is losing San Diego State to the Big East in football and the Big West for all other sports; Boise State to the Big East in football and the WAC in other sports; and TCU to the Big 12.

That means in 2013-14, the MWC would have eight football members, including Hawaii, and seven in all sports: UNLV, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado State, Air Force, Fresno State and Nevada.

A merger between C-USA and the MWC could consist of a conference with its current 2013-14 membership of 15 in all sports and 16 in football.

I want to point out that ten of those schools – Rice, Tulsa, UTEP, and all of the MWC schools except Nevada – were once part of the WAC16. Party like it’s 1996, y’all! In all seriousness, I don’t think that’s a terrible outcome. I just don’t think that any outcome right now should be seen as anything but a stopgap until the next round of changes comes along.

UH heads to the Big East

I wish them all the best.

The Big East Conference officially announced the additions of the University of Houston, Boise State, Central Florida, San Diego State and SMU on Wednesday.

UH, Central Florida and SMU are being added as all-sports members to the league while Boise State and San Diego State are joining as football-only members.

The additions will take effect in time for the 2013 football season.

“Over the last 32 years, the Big East Conference has constantly evolved along with the landscape of college athletics,” said Big East Commissioner John Marinatto. “The inclusion of these five great Universities, which bring a unique blend of premier academics, top markets, strong athletics brands and outstanding competitive quality, marks the beginning of a new chapter in that evolution. We are proud to welcome these schools to the Big East family.

“Much like the conference as a whole, the Big East name — though derived 32 years ago based on the geography of our founding members — has evolved into a highly respected brand that transcends borders, boundaries or regions. It’s national. Our membership makeup is now reflective of that.”

As things stand now, the reconstituted Big East will have ten members – I think it’s safe to assume that Syracuse, Pitt, and West Virginia will be allowed to make their exits prior to the 2013 season despite the lawsuit onslaught that has followed their initial announcements. Air Force and Navy may also be on board by then, which would allow the Big East to have two divisions, with the Big East West containing SDSU, Boise, Air Force, UH, SMU, and either Cincy or Louisville.

That all assumes that the five current Big East members stay put. As Andrea Adelson notes, that’s far from a sure thing.

The Big East had little choice but to add Houston, SMU, Central Florida and football-only members Boise State and San Diego State. After Pitt, Syracuse, TCU and West Virginia bolted the conference, the league had to do something to remain viable. That meant stretching itself, making Boise State its No. 1 priority to help boost its football profile. Boise State needed a West partner — hello, San Diego State.

None of this makes much geographical sense. There are no regional rivalries. There is no sense of brotherhood, of shared goals, of a common cause. Because the Big East was indeed a sinking ship in desperate need of a life preserver, it had to trade in the Backyard Brawl for some Red-Eye Rivalry.


These head-scratching moves do not answer any questions about the future of the Big East, not at all. What would make these 10 disparate universities band together to stick together? The first incarnation of the Big East failed. So did the second. How is the third any stronger than a conference that had Miami, Virginia Tech and West Virginia all on board?

Simply put, these moves are more of a stopgap measure and less of a stabilizing force. Once the conference seas start shifting again, you can bet some of the current members are going to want to jump as quickly as Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia and TCU did.

Think about it: Rutgers, Cincinnati, Louisville and Connecticut have gauged the interest of other conferences. According to the lawsuit West Virginia filed against the Big East to try and get out of the league for the 2012 season, representatives from those four schools “have been engaged in discussions with other sports conferences, including the ACC, SEC and Big Ten for the purpose of trying to obtain invitations to join these conferences and withdraw from the Big East.”

Indeed, Louisville practically threw itself at the Big XII a few weeks back, and UConn’s lust for the ACC is well known. It’s possible this mashup will settle their wanderlust, or will keep the predators at bay. I’m not sure I’d bet on that, however.

As for the conferences that the five joiners leave behind, it looks like they will get together and try to love one another right now form their own mega-conference.

C-USA and the Mountain West are considering a merger in all sports. Sources have indicated that Craig Thompson, the current commissioner of the Mountain West, would become the commissioner of the new merged league, while Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky would step down.

A vote on the merger could come by next month, sources said.

The merged league would consist of: East Carolina, Marshall, Memphis, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB and UTEP from C-USA and Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming from the Mountain West along with new members Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada for a 17-team conference. However, Air Force remains a viable candidate to join the Big East.

So, it’s more or less the old WAC-16 with some of the names changed to protect the innocent. I can hardly wait for the MOB’s “Annual Salute To The Everything Old Is New Again Conference” show next September. Hell, I’d start working on a script for it myself if I had any confidence that things won’t change again between now and then.

Anyway. As I said, I wish UH the best of luck. Nobody knows what the college football landscape will look like in a year, so if something comes along that looks like it may be better than what you have, you may as well grab for it. A statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman, in whose district UH resides, is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: Air Force is staying put.


UH to get Big East invitation

Change is coming, one way or another.

UH’s hope of joining an automatic-qualifying Bowl Championship Series conference may soon come to fruition after the Big East Conference extended an invitation to UH on Monday evening.

The league extended an invitation to UH after a conference call on expansion with the Big East’s presidents and chancellors according to a person familiar with the Big East’s expansion discussions.

UH chancellor Renu Khator and athletic director Mack Rhoades will head to New York later this week to meet with Big East officials. UH officials declined comment.

If UH makes the move and leaves Conference USA, it could take effect as early as the 2013 football season and it would be for all sports.

The report that UH has already received an invitation is a bit premature, but the plan is for them to get one. There are a number of “howevers” that come with this. The first is the biggest:

The University of Missouri is heading down a path to join the Southeastern Conference, said a university official with direct knowledge of the situation.

The person said that Missouri’s decision to apply for membership to the SEC was “inevitable and imminent,” although a specific timeframe has yet to be set. Missouri’s Board of Curators will meet on Thursday and Friday at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where the process of withdrawing from the Big 12 and applying to the SEC is expected to begin. Expansion is not listed on the agenda, but there is a private session scheduled Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.

After it applies, the person said that Missouri expected “no problems” with gathering enough votes among SEC presidents for it to become a member.

What does that have to do with UH and the Big East? This:

A source with direct knowledge of the Big 12’s expansion panel’s plans told’s Andy Katz that if Missouri departs, the Big 12 still must decide if it wants to go to 10 or 12 members. The source said Louisville and West Virginia are two of the top candidates to replace Missouri if it leaves.

Needless to say, if the Big East winds up being the raided instead of the raider, their attempt to expand is likely to fall apart. The Big East did vote to double its exit fee, from $5 million to $10 million, which was supposed to be a sign that the remaining schools were committed to staying. However:

The increase is contingent on Navy and Air Force joining, said another official in the Big East who also asked to not be named because of the sensitive nature of the talks.

Not clear who’s the chicken and who’s the egg here. It should be noted that the Big XII is also targeting BYU as a replacement for Missouri, and that if they get BYU and stop at ten teams, that might be the end of the domino tumbling for now. But there’s still another factor in play.

If Louisville and West Virginia leave, Big East basketball members also could decide that the proposed football additions wouldn’t add enough value on the basketball side and look to split from the remaining football schools.

Notre Dame also will be watching these moves closely since it could decide it’s time to move to a conference, either the ACC or the Big Ten. The ACC, at 14 schools, is believed to be holding a couple of spots open in case Notre Dame decides it’s time to join a conference. Connecticut already has expressed its interest in the ACC.

All these possibilities have been out there for weeks. However, Missouri’s potential move has been viewed all along as a trigger – a much-feared one in Big East circles.

Isn’t this fun? We ought to know in a couple of days what Missouri will do. Raise your hand if you ever believed that Mizzou would someday be the linchpin for all of college football. And finally, as a reminder that the fallout from all of this extends well beyond the schools at the epicenter, UTSA will be sitting by the phone waiting for a call from C-USA in the likely but not yet inevitable event that it needs to refill its membership.

UH to the Big East?

Rumor has it.

The University of Houston could be a part of a Bowl Championship Series automatic-qualifying conference in the near future.

UH is one of six schools that the Big East Conference is targeting for expansion, a person familiar with the conference’s expansion discussions told the Chronicle on Friday.

Air Force, Boise State, Central Florida, Navy and SMU are the other schools being targeted, and the Big East’s presidents and chancellors will conduct a conference call on Monday to further discuss expansion plans, the person said. A timetable for moving forward on expansion is unclear.

UH athletic director Mack Rhoades released a statement in response to the speculation regarding the school’s athletic conference future.

“We are aware of the growing speculation regarding conference realignment and do not feel it would be appropriate to comment on the possible intentions of another league,” the statement read. “We are flattered to be mentioned as an athletics program of national importance and we are grateful for our strong traditions and the dedication of our fans, alumni, staff and student-athletes.”

Adding schools from Idaho, Colorado, and Texas would make the “Big East” about as appropriately named as the “Big XII” and the “Big Ten”, but I don’t suppose anyone cares about that. Meanwhile, Conference USA, which has three schools targeted by the Big East, and the Mountain West, which has two, went forward with its football-only merger plan as defense against that potential raid.

The two leagues expect to merge their football operations into one mega-conference that will probably have between 20 and 24 teams in it when it finally gets going in 2013.

The name? They’ll come up with one.

Will Boise State and Air Force, among others (like UH and SMU), stay? They hope.

“I’m just trying to create stability — greater stability — so we’re not talking about membership issues,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said Friday night on a conference call. Both commissioners, Thompson and Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky, said the new arrangement will provide the security that top programs need to keep them from jumping ship.

By “security” he means “money”, but there is a little more to it than that.

According to a source with direct knowledge about Boise State’s and Air Force’s situations, the conferences went ahead with the alliance when Boise State indicated to the MWC that it didn’t plan to leave the conference.

The source also said Air Force had soured on the Big East deal a bit when Army decided against joining the Big East and Navy became skeptical of the plan.


Right now, the Big East has only six schools committed to play football in the league beyond this season.

Pittsburgh and Syracuse have announced they will move to the Atlantic Coast Conference, though Big East rules require them to stay in the league for the next two seasons, and Marinatto has said he will hold the Panthers and Orange to that. However, that seems unlikely if the league can’t grow to 12 teams for next season without them.

TCU was slated to join the Big East in 2012, but the Horned Frogs reneged on that commitment and accepted an invitation to the Big 12 last week.

Trying to recruit new members has been tricky for the Big East because its remaining members might also be looking for new conference homes.

Louisville and West Virginia are possible targets for the Big 12 if it needs to replace Missouri, which is pondering a move to the Southeastern Conference, or decides to expand back to 12 teams.

Connecticut has interest in joining the ACC if it expands again, and there has been speculation about Rutgers moving, too.

Remember that only UH, SMU, and Central Florida were invited for all sports by the Big East, so Boise State and Air Force would have to find another conference for their others sports if they went with that invitation. At this point, I think you have to consider everything to be written on sand. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen next.

Who’s number 14?

As the SEC welcomed Texas A&M as its 13th member, commissioner Mike Slive says they have no immediate plans to invite a 14th.

Slive said the SEC wasn’t looking to expand, but that A&M was too attractive of an option to ignore.

“We were very happy at 12,” Slive said. “When Texas A&M came to us and indicated their interest in joining the SEC, we said to ourselves: ‘That is a great institution, academically, athletically, culturally and in every way, and a real fit.’ So we decided even though we were content with 12, that we had the opportunity to have Texas A&M as part of the SEC was something that we just did not want to give up.”

Slive acknowledged that scheduling a 13-team league will be difficult but said it wouldn’t expand just to make things easier.

They won’t expand for 2012, but I cannot believe they won’t expand shortly thereafter to balance the conference. Thirteen is just an unwieldy number to deal with, and while making the scheduler’s life easier may not be a top priority, I’m sure it’s on the to do list. I also figure that the schools that will be in a seven team division will be thinking that their mates in the six team division have it easier than they do, and will want to rectify that. If they don’t add a 14th team by the start of the 2013 season, I’ll be surprised.

Meanwhile, there’s angst about the future of the UT-A&M game.

College football needs Texas-Texas A&M just like it needs rivalries like Ohio State-Michigan and Auburn-Alabama and Texas-OU and Lane Kiffin-NCAA. They’re as much a part of the fabric of college sporting life as Beano Cook, the Rose Bowl parade and Lee Corso’s costumes. Take ‘em away, and college football isn’t nearly as compelling.

And a lot of people are sad now that A&M’s gone to the SEC, and Texas-A&M is probably dead.

But John Sharp’s beyond sad. He’s borderline mad. Or he at least halfway sounded like it. Good for him.

“We want to make it abundantly clear we will play the game anywhere, any time,” the new Texas A&M chancellor told me Monday morning. “If that game dies, it will not be on us. That game is bigger than Texas and bigger than A&M. That game belongs to the people of Texas, and if it goes away, it’s not going to be on our watch.”

The Aggies are on record as saying they want to continue the series, come rain, shine or the Longhorn Network. A&M’s president and chancellor both say they want to play Texas every year.


Both sides are talking about how difficult it will be to fit in that game with conference schedules and all. Poppycock. Isn’t A&M in the third year of a 10-year series with Arkansas? Well, that will become an SEC game, which opens up a spot for Texas. Weren’t the Aggies and Longhorns supposed to play every year until the end of time or Joe Paterno’s next birthday? So now it’s a non-conference gig like all those pre-Big 12 Texas-OU shootouts in Dallas, no problem.

You see how easy it is.

Do not let pride and ego and raw emotion get in the way of the best thing in sports since the State Fair corny dog.

But DeLoss Dodds doesn’t sound as if he’ll budge either.

“As we have said before, scheduling them would be problematic,” the Texas athletic director said. “We have contracts for three non-conference games each year that run until 2018. We also don’t know what the configuration of the Big 12 will be.”

Then, DeLoss adds this for a zinger:

“We didn’t leave the conference. They did,” he said. “We’ll make a decision that’s best for Texas.”

The irony is that while A&M bolted for the SEC in large part to escape UT’s shadow, keeping this game probably means more to them at this point than it does to UT. The Longhorns still have a signature rivalry game with Oklahoma every year. They also now have an incentive, as do other schools in Texas, to minimize A&M’s presence within the state. I’m neither an Aggie nor a Longhorn, so the loss of this game would have no special meaning to me, but I do think that having severed conference ties with Texas, A&M is in no position to blame them for the end of this tradition if that happens. (For that matter, if either school actually cared about tradition, the Southwest Conference would still be a going concern.) The Aggies shouldn’t be surprised or offended that as they have moved on, so has UT.

Well, assuming the Legislature lets them move on, of course.

Texas has a long-standing tradition of creating odd laws to fit nearly every circumstance. Hell, we have an official song for our state flower. But one has to wonder if State Senator Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) may be taking things a bit too far with his proposal to draft legislation that would require the University of Texas and Texas A&M University to play an annual football game every Thanksgiving as they have for many years.

With A&M moving to the Southeastern Conference and the future of the Big 12 very much in doubt, Williams and State Rep. John Otto, who will sponsor the bill in the House, have decided this is a tradition that must be preserved and the best way to go about doing that is making it law.

We’re a long way out from the next legislative session, and for all we know neither Williams nor Otto may be in the next Lege, so to say this is all a bit premature is to understate. I’m not surprised someone has taken this up, but neither will I be surprised if it winds up going nowhere.

And finally, just because it’s such a weird story, we have the possibility of a merger between Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference.

A football-only federation – involving 22 to 24 schools – would offer C-USA and Mountain West a “strength in numbers” response to recent conference realignment.

“It’s an intriguing concept,” Rice athletic director Rick Greenspan said. “It’s one that is probably a bit unique in college athletics.”

A C-USA-Mountain West merger would involve the two leagues remaining separate. At the end of the season, the two champions would meet in a championship game with the hope the winner receives a BCS bid.

No timetable has been set for when a decision could be made. C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Monday that the possibility of a merger for 2012 is premature but “the following year is something that is possible.” The current BCS contract runs through January 2014.

I guess the idea is that the winner of this mega-conference championship game would be seen as BCS-worthy? Or maybe that they figure either the Big XII or the Big East will implode between now and then, and they would like to be first in line to fill that slot? Seems to me there’s a bit of an underpants gnomes problem here, but maybe they’ve put more thought into this than I’m giving them credit for. All things considered, it’s not the craziest thing I’ve heard this week.